Addis Ababa: A rich tapestry of history, culture and art

The writer tasting coffee at Salem Hotel, which is located at Tunisia Avenue. 

What you need to know:

Just like its name, the city is sanctified with flowers on the streets. Every official visitor and diplomat is welcomed with a petal. The city with a rich history, was named Addis Ababa, literally meaning new flower

There is more to a fleet of aircrafts that will welcome you at Bole international airport in Addis Ababa, the capital of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

Past the clearance division at the airport, you will be welcomed by warm people who will try their best to speak to you in English, in a city where almost all dwellers speak their native Amharic.

A city down in the middle of hills, archaeological inspired souvenirs and outfits blend with faces of historical figures, especially Emperor Haile Selassie, Regent Plenipotentiary of Ethiopia for Empress Zewditu.

Just like its name, the city is sanctified with flowers on the streets. Every official visitor and diplomat is welcomed with a petal. The city with a rich history, was named Addis Ababa, literally meaning new flower.

Dubbed Mekane Selam meaning the City of Peace, the Seven days I spent in Addis Ababa, provided a treat to culture, history and art, which are manifested in magnificent infrastructure, monuments and the people.

 The magnificent view  of  the Streets of Addis Ababa. PHOTO/GABRIEL

Meskel Square

My first day in Addis Ababa starts at the Meskel Square in the heart of the city. Ethiopia is endowed with several parks and squares, but Meskel is worth visiting.

A home to arts and entertainment, the Ugandan team that attended the inaugural East African arts and culture festival fit in Meskels’ purpose by putting up an electrifying performance, courtesy of artistes, Phina Mugerwa Masanyalaze and Afropop artiste CJ Champion.

The eventful day offers me an opportunity to experience the Ethiopian culture and art. Kejela Merdassa, the minister of Culture and Sports tells us there is more to Ethiopia than the festival, encouraging people to visit and enjoy the country.

The Meskel Square annually hosts the Meskel-Demera Religious festival, an event that is inscribed by UNESCO, as world’s intangible heritage. The square’s name “Meskel” is derived from the Amharic word holy cross.

The square is the site where locals celebrate Meskel, the foundation of the true cross of Jesus Christ every year on September 27.

A metallic sculpture of the an ancient horse at Entoto art Centre. PHOTO/GABRIEL BUULE

Located near the Addis Ababa University’s graduate school, the national museum of Ethiopia is home to rich history and data that explains the origin of mankind.

The museum exhibits prehistoric fossils of historical faces of mankind that includes the famous early hominid Lucy and the famous skull of zinjanthropus, a fossil hominids based on a skull found in eastern Africa.

The inscription on Lucy’s remains suggests that her 1974 discovery in the Afar region of north western Ethiopia, changed the understanding of human origin forever. Most of the remains are clearly labelled in English for none Amharic readers to understand the stories behind the displayed fossils.

On the first floor, there is a vivid display of Ethiopian art ranging from early days of the kingdom of Aksum and the Ethiopian Empire art of possibly the 14th and the 20th century.

The museum is not that big but with admission of only 10 Birr; it offers a wide collection of artistic, historical and archaeological exhibits in the world.

It is very hard to discuss Ethiopia without mentioning Emperor Haile Selassie, who reigned between 1892 and 1975. In the Ethiopia Museum, it is not just his portrait hanging on the wall. Emperor Selassie’s throne  is one of the famous features you will find in the museum.

Donated to Emperor Selassie by the people of India, the throne is well preserved and placed just adjacent to the skull of the famous zinjanthropus.

In the compound, you will be treated to historical sculpture of Emperor Selassie giving directions to his students in 1974, the sculpture of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, which was donated to the city of Addis Ababa in 2002.

Much as the world associate the Rastafari movement to Emperor Selassie following his visit to Jamaica in the 1930s, at the museum, the guides reveal that the Rastafari messianic figure was an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian throughout his life.

Ronald Kayondo of Uganda National Cultural Forum at the Throne of  Emperor Selasie at Ethiopia National Museum. PHOTO/GABRIEL BUULE

More to Addis

Regarded as the roof of Addis Ababa, Entoto Park is another iconic place to visit away from the city centre.  At 3,200m in elevation, Entoto offers an opportunity to drive to the steep road via the US Embassy to other iconic sites that include historic churches and great infrastructure.

It is at the top of Entoto, where Menelik II built his home and used it as his headquarters during the founding of the capital city below. Besides the iconic St Mary’s Church that hosted Menelik’s coronation, Entoto is home to a new state-of-the-art centre that was recently inaugurated. The down town of Addis is a big market place and home to Ethiopian goods. Away from the magnificent city hall, the tallest bank in the country and the railway, do not miss out on the Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum in Addis Ababa, which was established in 2010 as a memorial to those who died during the Red Terror under the Derg government

Ugandan Musician Phiina Mugerwa receives a gift from the Culture Minister at Oromo Cultural Centre. PHOTO/GABRIEL BUULE

Oromo cultural centre

Managed by Oromia Culture and Tourism Bureau, the Oromo Cultural Centre is another magnificent place that offers a glance into the Oromo culture, research, history, language and art.

Miss Tourism for Oromo culture Halimaa Abdulshukur says the centre has four major divisions, which include Oromo research centre, which is in-charge of history, language, culture and art research.

“The department has a sector for language research division, which caters for Afaan Oromoo folklore and oral literature, Afaan Oromoo grammar study, Afaan Oromoo language codification and standardisation and department of Afaan Oromoo dictionary making,” she adds.

The cultural centre has a lot to tell about the folk-life of Oromo and leadership based on communal understanding of the people presented with symbols, norms, and the famous Gada System.

Elders at the centre reveal that the Gada System is a high profile socio-economic and democratic political system of Oromo society. The Gada system was recently registered by Unesco as intangible cultural heritage of the people. It comprises social, political, economic and religious institutions.

Composed of different functional departmental units, the centre that has a museum, theatre, public library, art and music training centre, is home to rich historical facts, including used in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, also referred to as the Second Italo-Abyssinian War of 1935.

Ethiopian delicacy: Shiro is usually served with injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is produced with teff, local gluten-free millet. PHOTO/GABRIEL BUULE

What you should know

While in Addis Ababa, you must use the country’s currency as opposed to dollars. Before landing at Bole Airport, you will have to declare money that goes beyond $3,000 and an official form will be provided.

It is understood that there are gazzeted institutions that include hotels and banks that are legally allowed to exchange money and guests are advised to ask for a receipt. Any black market dealings are illegal and punishable by the law.

In Addis Ababa, the mode of transport is both public and private. Besides the traditional cabs commonly known as Radha, you can make use of digital cabs called Ride that charge per kilometre.

For every journey you make, have an interpreter with you, because most of the drivers use native Amharic and a few can speak a word or two in English, especially those that are attached to the Ride app.

Night life is not a booming business as most clubs and bars get busy during weekends. But foreign revellers are advised to go with a national to avoid trouble.

For the lovers of night life, you can make use of Surrender night club on Ghana street, The Ethiopian Lounge, Bar Melo - Chichinya, Elevate Bar and Lounge at Ethio China Street, among others.

To ease communication, you will have to buy a simcard of Ethio telecom, which can be acquired at Bole International airport or any Ethio telecom outlet in Addis Ababa.

Just like in any other African cities, while in Addis Ababa you have to watch your phone and other gadgets. From raw meat to chilli spiced foods, be ready to be served with shiro stew, whose primary ingredient is powdered broad beans, combined with special herbs and spices.

Shiro is usually served with injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is produced with teff, local gluten-free millet.

But the story about Addis Ababa is not complete without coffee.  A home to  premium quality Arabica coffee in the world discovered by an Ethiopian goat herder in the foothills of the Kaffa region around the 6th century, coffee is at every corner of the city and you can make use of Kaldi’s, a chain modeled after Starbucks.

 The magnificent view  of  the Streets of Addis Ababa. PHOTO/GABRIEL


Empress Taitu, wife of Emperor Menilek II, who ruled Ethiopia between 1889 and 1913, persuaded the emperor to build a house near the hot springs at the foot of the tableland and to grant land in the area to members of the nobility.

The city was thus founded in 1887 and was named Addis Ababa (“New Flower”) by the empress. With a size of 527 km², Addis Ababa which was founded in 1886, is located in the highlands bordering the Great Rift Valley, is the country’s commercial and cultural hub.