The capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa is translated from Amharic as "The New Flower." Near the center of the country at an elevation of 7,600 ft/2,500 m and lying 350 mi/565 km south of Aksum, the capital city sits in a narrow valley in the shadow of Mount Entotto. Founded in 1887 by Emperor Menelik II, Addis boasts some impressive early-20th-century buildings dispersed amid stretches of sun-bleached shacks and empty lots. The misty, eucalyptus-covered hills surrounding Addis add to the enjoyment of walking the city streets, especially in the evening or early morning. While there, see the Ethiopian National Museum, which contains a replica of "Lucy," the fossilized woman found in the Great Rift Valley in 1974. (The real Lucy is locked away in the museum's archives.) The Menelik Mausoleum is in a cellar under a small church on a hill overlooking the city—a priest will open the church for you. The nearby Kiddist Selassie (Holy Trinity) Cathedral, built in 1933, is the final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie, who was reburied there in the year 2000, 25 years after his death at the hands of the Dergue.
The mercato, a colorful 10-sq-mi/25-sq-km open market, offers everything from food to paintings of biblical scenes. The story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon is particularly popular. Other attractions include Africa Hall (a convention hall with beautiful stained-glass windows), the Lion of Judah statue and the octagonal Church of St. George (built in 1896—try to attend a service to hear incredible chanting and music). Expect to see sheep, cows and goats walking down the road, framed by skyscrapers in the background.
Because it has the best accommodations in the country, Addis is a good base for day trips to surrounding attractions such as Ankober (90 mi/145 km northeast) and Debre Libanos (60 mi/100 km north). Ankober was once a trading center for African wealth destined for Red Sea ports. A few miles/kilometers north in the Ifat Desert is the Church of Debre Birhan ("Mountain of Light"), an interesting 15th-century church built when the area was the capital of the Showa Kingdom. At Debre Libanos, also part of Showa, you can find a 13th-century monastery and healing mineral waters, and look for highland wildlife such as the majestic lammergeyer (bearded vulture) and oddball gelada monkey. Farther north, the road continues to the Blue Nile Gorge.
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