Ethiopia is truly a land of contrasts and extremes; a land of remote and wild places. Some of the highest and most stunning places on the African continent are found here, such as the jaggedly carved Simien Mountains, one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites – and some of the lowest, such as the hot but fascinating Danakil Depression, with its sulphur fumaroles and lunar-like landscape. Ethiopia is old; old beyond all imaginations. As Abyssinia, its culture and traditions date back over 3,000 years.
Many people visit Ethiopia because of the remarkable manner in which ancient historical traditions have been preserved. And, indeed, the ceremonies and rituals of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, open a window on the authentic world of the Old Testament. In no other country is it possible to find yourself so dramatically transported back in time or to participate with such freedom in the sacred rituals of an archaic faith.
With a population of more than two million people, Addis Ababa is not only the political capital but also the economic and social nerve-centre of Ethiopia. Founded by Emperor Menelik in 1887, this big, sprawling, hospitable city still bears the stamp of his exuberant personality.
Ethiopia’s capital is located at an altitude of 2440 m (8000 ft) in the central highlands. Places of interest include the university, St George’s Cathedral, the Ethnology Museum, the Menelik Mausoleum, the Trinity Church, the Old Ghibi Palace and the market, one of the largest in Africa.
Addis Ababa is as cosmopolitan as any of the world's great metropolises, and the architecture is as varied as the city itself. Tall office buildings, elegant villas, functional bungalows, flat, fashionable hotels, conference halls and theatres.
When orienting yourself, it also helps to keep in mind that the city is essentially divided into three main sections. To the East lies what may be termed the Government and Educational sector. From North to South the University, the National Museum, the Menelik School, the first State printing press, the old Menelik Palace, the Hilton Hotel, the Jubilee Palace, and Meskal (Revolution) Square are located.
The Central sector is devoted largely to commerce but also houses some government businesses. This sector goes from Saint George Cathedral, City Hall, and the Television Studio in the North to the Railway Station in the South – all by way of Churchill Road. Here you will also find the headquarters of the National and Commercial Banks; the main sales office of Ethiopian Airlines; the Post and Telecommunication office; the main hospital; and the National Theatre.
In addition, there is much trade in the western sector of the city, where the famous Mercato can be found, as well as the city's main mosque and many shops rarely frequented by foreign visitors. The south-west sector of the city, which developed later than the centre, is partly residential and partly industrial.
Many tourist attractions and important offices are found along the capital's main roads, which make exploring the city by car easy and enjoyable. However, perhaps the best way to explore Addis is by foot which allows you to take in much more of the local 'flavour' and see some sights you would perhaps miss if you were in a vehicle.
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