Our Meskel Festival itinerary starts in the capital, Addis Ababa, the world’s fourth highest capital. On Meskel Eve we witness the singing and dancing in Meskell Square around the festival’s showpiece, a massive burning pyre. From Addis we journey to Bahir Dar, and Lake Tana, to visit its monasteries and the spectacular Blue Nile Falls
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Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Challenging
We travel north to Gondar to explore its UNESCO ancient castles and palaces and then tothe ancient city of Axum, legendarily home of the Queen of Sheba and final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.
Finally, we visit Lalibela and its unique 12th century rock-hewn churches. We feast our eyes on the incredible views over the surrounding valleys and hills as we watch the sunset from the magical Ben Abeba restaurant.
• Ancient castles& Palaces of Gondar
• Spectacular Blue Nile Falls
• Meskel Festivities
• 12th century Rock hewn churches of Lalibela
Arrival and departure transfers are included, whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you.
Accommodation as listed in the itinerary. Should we need to change hotels, but we will endeavour to keep the same standard.However, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.
You will be escorted throughout by an English-speaking guide. You will also have local English-speaking guides.
As listed within the itinerary (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner).
All entrance fees
A bottle of mineral water every day
Guests are responsible for arranging their own visa. We would recommend that you obtain your visa in advance of your trip using the evisa service.
We don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours
It is important that you have insurance in place prior to arriving in country.
Guide and porterage tips, also local payments for photography
Day 1 - Addis Ababa L/D
On arrival at Bole International Airport, you will be met and transferred to your hotel. After lunch a city tour will take you to the National Archaeological Museum, to view the 3.6 million-year-old remains of “Lucy”, discovered in 1974, Ethnological Museum at Addis Ababa University and Holy Trinity Cathedral. Drive to the top of Mount Entoto, which rises to an altitude of 10,500 feet for a panoramic view of the metropolis before making your way back to your hotel. Overnight at Swiss Inn Nexus Hotel or similar.
The Ethiopian capital is situated on the southern slopes of central Ethiopia’s Entoto Hills and is the world’s fourth highest capital city with altitudes of 2,350m to more than 2,600m. The city was founded in the 19th century by Emperor Menelik II.
Addis Ababa ”new flower”) or Addis Abeba, also known as Finfinne (”natural spring”), is the capital and largest city of Ethiopia.
As a chartered city, Addis Ababa also serves as the capital city of Oromia. It is where the African Union is headquartered and where its predecessor the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was based. It also hosts the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), as well as various other continental and international organizations. Addis Ababa is therefore often referred to as ”the political capital of Africa” for its historical, diplomatic and political significance for the continent. The city lies a few miles west of the East African Rift which splits Ethiopia into two, through the Nubian Plate and the Somali Plate. The city is populated by people from different regions of Ethiopia.
Day 2 - Addis Ababa B/L/D
Today we visit the National Archaeological Museum, where we will view the 3.6-million-year-old remains of “Lucy”, whose skeleton was discovered in 1974, and the Ethnological Museum at Addis Ababa University.
Today is the eve of Meskel (“The Finding of True Cross”) called Demera. A huge bonfire is built at Meskel square in the centre of Addis Ababa and topped with a cross to which flowers are tied. The patriarch of the Orthodox Church leads the lightening ceremony. After the bonfire is blessed dancing and singing begins around it and an inner feeling of brightness spreads through all those around it. Meskel is one of the major Ethiopian orthodox festivals celebrated on 27th September. This festival celebrates ”The Finding of the True Cross” (the cross upon which Jesus was crucified) by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, in the 4th Century. After attending the festival, you will be transferred to your hotel. Overnight Nexus Hotel or similar
MESKEL FESTIVAL (FINDING OF THE TRUE CROSS)
The Meskel festival is observed to commemorate the discovery of the True Cross upon which Christ was crucified. It’s the most important events in the spiritual part of Ethiopian culture which is celebrated by dancing, feasting and lighting a massive bonfire known in Ethiopian tradition as Demmera.
The history goes back to 4th century with Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine. She travelled to Jerusalem and started to excavate by lit incense and prayed for assistance from God in her search for the cross. The smoke from the incense drifted in the direction of the buried cross. She dug and found three crosses: one of them was the true cross on which Jesus Christ crucified. The original event took place on September 26, 326 AD and found it in 19 March 327 AD.
The feast is celebrated in Ethiopia on September 17th on the Ethiopian calendar (September 27th on the Gregorian calendar), six months after the discovery of the true cross. The celebration of Meskel recognizes the presence of the true cross in Ethiopia at the Mountain of Gishen Miriam monastery, and also recognizes Empress Helena’s road to finding it. During this time of the year flowers bloom on the mountains and plains, and the meadows are yellow. Meskal day is Dancing, feasting, merrymaking, bonfires and even gun salutes mark the occasion.
Day 3 - Bahir Dar B/L/D
After breakfast transfer to the airport for your morning flight to Bahir Dar. Check in to your hotel on the shore of Lake Tana then drive to Tiss Abay to visit the majestic Blue Nile Falls. After lunch board a boat for a cruise across Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake. Visit three monasteries on Lake Tana. Both men and women can visit the first monastery, Ura Kidane Mihret. Near Ura Kidane Mihret is a traditional house museum that we will visit, along with two island monasteries, Kibran Gabriel and EntosEyesus. Kibran Gabriel can only be visited by men, so while the men are visiting that one, the women will visit the neighbouring Entos Eyesus.. Keep an eye open for white pelicans. Overnight at Blue Nile Avanti or similar.
The town of Bahir Dar is located in the north of Ethiopia, 180km south of Gondar on the shores of Lake Tana. It came into prominence in the 18th century. as a commercial destination for trade caravans to and from Gondar and the surrounding area. Today, it is one of the most attractive towns in Ethiopia and serves as a celebrated tourist destination. It hosts the fabled Blue Nile falls, the beautiful highland Lake Tana and 14th-century island monastic churches.
Day 4 - Gondar B/L/D
Scenic drive to Gondar, the so-called Camelot of Africa. Visit the royal enclosure containing six castles, a complex network of connecting tunnels and raised walkways. Proceed to the fascinating Debre Birhan Selassie Church with its walls and ceiling decorated with scenes of Biblical lore and medieval history. Overnight Goha Hotel or similar
Gondar, once the Ethiopian capital, was home to a number of emperors and warlords, courtiers and kings. The graceful city of Gonder, founded by Emperor Fasilidas, become the capital of the Ethiopian empire around 1635. This settlement, which became Fasilidas principal headquarters, grew into an important town, and remained Ethiopia’s capital, and most popular city, for over two centuries.
The oldest of Gondar’s many imperial structures is the impressive 17th century palace of Emperor Fasilidas. Many other fascinating historical buildings and relics can be seen in the area. Gaze down from the balconies of the many castles and palaces to imagine the intrigue and pageantry that took place back in the 17th and 18th centuries of this great city.
Fasilidas endowed his capital with a sizeable palace, known as the Fasil Gemb, or Fasil building. It was larger and more impressive than any structure in Ethiopia up to that time. Fasilidas, who reputedly constructed many other buildings and bridges in the city, was succeeded by his son, Emperor Yohannes (1667-1682), and later by his grandson, Iyasu1 (1682-1706), both of whom built more palaces in the vicinity of Fasil Gemb. Iyasu’s most lasting achievement was the church of Debre Berhan Selassie, the light of the Trinity, which stands, surrounded by a high wall. The interior is marvellously painted with great scenes from religious history.
Apart from the famous castle in the royal compound, visitors should visit the so-called bathing palace of the Emperor. This two storey crenelated stone structure has a flat roof and two wooden balconies. It is set the middle of a large rectangular bath, reminiscent of a modern swimming-pool, which was traditionally filled with water brought by pipe from the nearby Qaha River. It was intended for the Timket Celebrations which commemorated the Baptism of Christ-a use to which the bath is put to this day.
Timket celebration at Gondar several more palaces were raised by both Yohannes 1 and Iyasu 1. They later built a large two-storey crenelated structure beside that of their grandfather Fasilidas.
The reigns of the first three Gondarie rulers thus witnessed a steady expansion of the city, in the course of which an imperial quarter came into existence.
Gondar is a town of fairy-tale medieval castles and is noted for the design and decoration of its churches, masterpieces, which were constructed from stone in the form of crenelated castles, are of a significant distinctive design.
Flanked by twin mountain streams Gondar retains an atmosphere of antique charm mingled with an aura of mystery. The city was once a vigorous and vital centre of religious learning and art. Painting and music, dance and poetry, together with skilled instructions in these and many other disciplines, thrived for more than two hundred years. Fasilidas and his successors saw their elegant capital as a renaissance of Ethiopian culture and so patronized the arts.
The fascination with painting, mainly expressed through church murals, icons, illuminated manuscripts and scrolls, has remained. Religious themes dominate all but the most recent Ethiopian art.
It is also worth visiting the ruins of the palace and abbey of the redoubtable 18th century Empress Mentewab at Quesquam overlooking Gondar. The royal compound, like that at Gondar proper, contains a number of buildings. The largest was apparently used for receptions and served as headquarters of the garrison.
The palace compound was surrounded by a ’high outer-wall;’ which was about a mile in circumference, with outer precincts all occupied by soldiers, labourers and out-doors servants. Quesquam is wonderful and historic place.
Outside the palace compound, a second important building constructed during Iyasu’s reign is the church of Debre Birhan Selassie (or light of Trinity), which stands on raised ground to the north west of the city. This is the finest of the Gondarine churches, with its ceiling decorated with many winged angels.
In the old days it was surmounted by a gold cross, which is now gone. However, original walls painted from top to bottom with scenes of Biblical lore and medieval history is well preserved. Because of its extensive population, and the considerable patronage offered by both state and church, Gondar emerged as a major handicraft centre. Many of the city’s principal artisans come from minority groups. Falasha (Jewish) craftsmen include blacksmiths, weavers and masons, and their womenfolk are potters. Muslim craftsmen are mainly weavers and tent¬makers, some of whom also served as tent carriers and carpenters.
Day 5 - Axum B/L/D
Fly to the heart of ancient Ethiopia, the capital of the Kingdom of Axum which was the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. We explore the monolithic steles or obelisks of Axum, the tombs of King Kaleb and King Gebre Meskal, the legendary Bath of the Queen of Sheba, and the ruins of her ancient palace. We also visit the new and the old Cathedral of St Mary of Tsion (Zion) and the sanctuary that houses the original Arc of the Covenant. The older of the two cathedrals, built in the 16th century, is believed to be built on the ruins of an earlier 4th century church, and is the holiest site in Ethiopia. Overnight Atranos FantasyHotel or similar.
The kingdom of Aksum, the first verifiable kingdom of great power to rise in Ethiopia, immerge during the first century AD. The Persian religious figure Mani listed Axum with Rome, Persia, and China as one of the four great powers of his time. It was in the early 4th century that a Syro-Greek castaway, Frumentius, was taken to the court and eventually converted king Ezana to Christianity, thereby making it an official religion. For this accomplishment, he received the title ”Abba Selama”. At various times, including a period in the 6th century, Axum controlled most of modern-day Yemen just across the Red Sea.
The Aksumite Empire or Axumite Empire (sometimes called the Kingdom of Aksum or Axum), was an important trading nation in north eastern Africa, growing from the proto-Aksumite period ca. 4th century BC to achieve prominence by the 1st century AD. It was a major player in the commerce between the Roman Empire and Ancient India and the Aksumite rulers facilitated trade by minting their own currency. The state established its hegemony over the declining Kingdom of Kush and regularly entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, and would eventually extend its rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom.
Under Ezana Aksum became the first major empire to convert to Christianity and was named by Mani as one of the four great powers of his time along with Persia, Rome, and China. In the 7th century the Muslims who originally converged in Mecca, sought refuge from Quraysh persecution by travelling to Aksum which is known in Islamic history as the First Hijra. Its ancient capital is found in northern Ethiopia. The Kingdom used the name ”Ethiopia” as early as the 4th century. It is also the alleged resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.
Day 6 - Lalibela B/L/D
Transfer to the airport for our flight to Lalibela, famous for its rock hewn churches dating back 800 years, and transferred to the Hotel. There are 11 rock -hewn churches in the Town of Lalibela which 3 of them are Monolithic (free standing completely detached from the ground), 7 of them are semi-monolithic and 1 church is cave church. The brilliant feats of engineering and architecture of rock hewn churches of Lalibela are referred to as the
Located in the north-east of Ethiopia, Lalibela is another renowned historical destination. Placed third in historic sequence, its site hosts the “eighth wonder of the world”, the Lalibela rock-hewn churches. UNESCO has recorded this site as one of the world wonders. It is also holy land for Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians.
Today the town of Lalibela hosts eleven rock-hewn churches and all, apart from their historic significance, are renowned for their excellent and unique rock-carvings. The art displayed on the rocks dates from the twelfth century yet is still intact and in great shape. An active pilgrim site, the town is extensively visited and a source of admiration for architects and tourists alike.
Founded at the centre of the Lasta mountain chain, Lalibela was originally called Roha and was a site of the Zagwe dynasty, of the Agew people. The decline of the Axumite dynasty gave rise to the Zagwe dynasty and, as a result, power shifted southward from Axum. After an interruption of the Solomonic line for almost 12 years, King Lalibela III, from the last of the Zagwe dynasty, managed to have these rock-hewn churches carved.
It took King Lalibela his entire reign and more than 60,000 men to finish the work. According to local accounts, the work was assisted by angels. Other erected and cave churches built during this period are found at a short distance from the town.
Day 7 - Lalibela B/L/D
In the morning half-day excursion by mule to Asheton Mariam to visit the Church that lie on the top of the mountain. The Church itself is similar in style to other rock churches, but the panoramic view of the surroundings is spectacular from the mountaintop. Return to the hotel for lunch. Afternoon spent visiting more of the rock churches in Lalibela town.Overnight Maribela hotel
Asheton Mariam Church
Lalibela stands a small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Asheton Maryam Monastery has no special features, but the efforts of the two-hour climb are rewarded by an imposing landscape and great views.
In a country of spectacular sites, Lalibela is the undisputed jewel in the crown. Sat within a spectacular mountain-top setting, Lalibela plays host to the most incredible period in Ethiopian history, the reign of King Lalibela and his attempt to build a new Jerusalem in Ethiopia.
Day 8 - Addis Ababa B/L/D
Fly this morning to Addis Ababa. After lunch explore the Merkato Outdoor Market; one the largest on the African continent. Early this evening proceed to a local restaurant for a farewell dinner which offers the traditional coffee ceremony. Transfer to the airport for your flight back to home.
The Ethiopian national dish is called wat. It is a hot spicy stew accompanied by injera (traditional large spongy pancake made of teff flour and water). Teff is unique to the country and is grown on the Ethiopian highlands. There are many varieties of wat, e.g. chicken, beef, lamb, vegetables, lentils, and ground split peas stewed with hot spice called berbere.