Ethiopia is one of the oldest independent nations in the world. It has long been an intersection between the civilizations of North Africa, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. Unique among African countries, Ethiopia was never colonized, maintaining its independence throughout the "Scramble for Africa", except for five years 1936-41 when it was under Italian military occupation. During this period, the Italians occupied only a few key cities and major routes, and faced continuing native resistance until they were finally defeated during the Second World War by a joint Ethiopian-British alliance. Ethiopia has long been a member of international organizations: it became a member of the League of Nations, signed the Declaration by United Nations in 1942, founded the UN headquarters in Africa, was one of the 51 original members of the UN, and is the headquarters for and one of the founding members of the former OAU and current AU. In 1974, its monarchist government was deposed, and replaced with a pro-Soviet military junta, which ruled Ethiopia for 17 years until the end of the Cold War.
Ethiopia was historically called Abyssinia, derived from the Arabic form of the Ethiosemitic name ḤBŚT, modern Habesha. In some countries, Ethiopia is still called by names cognate with "Abyssinia", e.g., Turkish Habesistan, meaning land of the Habesha people. The English name "Ethiopia" is thought to be derived from the Greek word Αἰθιοπία Aithiopia, from Αἰθίοψ Aithiops "an Ethiopian", derived from Greek terms meaning "of burnt αιθ- visage ὄψ". However, this etymology is disputed, since the Book of Aksum, a Ge'ez chronicle first composed in the 15th century, states that the name is derived from 'Ityopp'is, a son unmentioned in the Bible of Cush, son of Ham who according to legend founded the city of Axum.
Ethiopia is one of the oldest countries in the world. In the long and disturbed history of the African continent, Ethiopia remains the only country which has never been colonised. Ethiopia was a founding member of the UN and is home to the African Union's headquarters. The Old Testament of the Bible records the Queen of Sheba's visit to Jerusalem.
In fact, historians believe that Ethiopia may well be the beginning of mankind. The fossils of the oldest living mankind or "Lucy" was discovered in the the northern section of Ethiopia. The remains of the fossil are said to be 3.5 million years old.
After a long and difficult period under self-declared "communist" rulers, the country is now back on its feet. The long history assures that there are many historic sites in the country. The natural beauty, with high mountains, lakes, waterfalls as well as arid deserts are among the natural attractions of Ethiopia.
Highlights in Ethiopia include the towns of Axum, Gondar, Harar, as well as the rock churches of Lalibela. Rafting on the Omo River is spectacular too. Beware of crocodiles.
Time and calendar
Ethiopia uses the Ethiopian calendar, which dates back to the Coptic calendar 25 BC, and never adopted the Julian or Gregorian reforms. One Ethiopian year consists of twelve months, each lasting thirty days, plus a thirteenth month of five or six days hence the "Thirteen Months of Sunshine" tourism slogan. The Ethiopian new year begins on 11 or 12 September in the Gregorian calendar, and has accumulated 7-8 years lag behind the Gregorian calendar: thus, for the first nine months of 2007, the year will be 1999 according to the Ethiopian calendar. On 11 September 2007, Ethiopia celebrated New Year's Day Enkutatesh for 2000.
In Ethiopia, the 12-hour clock cycles do not begin at midnight and noon, but instead are offset six hours. Thus, Ethiopians refer to midnight or noon as 6 o'clock.
Airline timetables and our guides unless otherwise stated are based on the 24-hour clock and use the Gregorian calendar.
The predominant climate type is tropical monsoon, with wide topographic-induced variation. As a highland country, Ethiopia has a climate which is generally considerably cooler than other regions at similar proximity to the Equator. Most of the country's major cities are located at elevations of around 2,000-2,500 metres 6,600-8,200 ft above sea level, including historic capitals such as Gondar and Axum.
The modern capital, Addis Ababa, is situated in the foothills of Mount Entoto at an elevation of around 2,400m 8,000 ft, and experiences a healthy and pleasant climate year-round. With fairly uniform year-round temperatures, the seasons in Addis Ababa are largely defined by rainfall, with a dry season from October 'thru February, a light rainy season from March to May, and a heavy rainy season from June to September. The average annual rainfall is around 1200mm 47 in. There are on average 7 hours of sunshine per day, meaning it is sunny for around 60% of the available time. The dry season is the sunniest time of the year, though even at the height of the rainy season in July and August there are still usually several hours per day of bright sunshine.
The average annual temperature in Addis Ababa is 16°C 61°F, with daily maximum temperatures averaging 20-25°C 68-77°F throughout the year, and overnight lows averaging 5-10°C 41-50°F. A light jacket is recommended for the evenings, though many Ethiopians prefer to dress conservatively and will wear a light jacket even during the day.
Most major cities and tourist sites in Ethiopia lie at a similar elevation to Addis Ababa and have comparable climates, though in less elevated regions, particularly the lower lying regions in the east of the country, the climate can be significantly hotter and drier. The town of Dallol, in the Danakil Depression in this eastern zone, has the world's highest average annual temperature of 34°C 93°F.
A high plateau with a central mountain range divided by the Great Rift Valley, arid low lands in the east and lush riverine lowlands in the westernmost parts.
The lowest point of the Danakil Depression is one of the lowest and hottest points in earth at 125m 410 ft below sea level. The highest point is Ras Dejen 4,620m 15,157 ft.
The still geologically active Great Rift Valley is susceptible to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Frequent droughts and unrestricted fecundity threaten periodic famines.
Ethiopia is now landlocked since the entire coastline along the Red Sea was lost with the de jure independence of Eritrea on 24 May 1993 after years of bitter fighting. The Blue Nile, the chief headstream of the Nile, rises in T'ana Hayk Lake Tana in northwest Ethiopia.
Three major crops are believed to have originated in Ethiopia: coffee, grain sorghum, and castor bean. Teff is also a grain that came from Ethiopia.