3) Addis Ababa
Wading into the market chaos known as Merkato, just west of Addis’ centre, can be as rewarding as it is exasperating. You may find the most eloquent aroma wafting from precious incense. Some people say it’s the largest market in Africa, but as its exact boundaries are as shady as some of its characters, this is a little hard to verify.
What should be noted, however, is that this isn’t one of those nicely photogenic markets with goods laid out on the ground or in little stalls. Most vendors now have permanent tin shacks to house their wares, so in many eyes this changes the market from a scene of exotica to just a slum.
The mass of stalls, produce and people may seem impenetrable, but on closer inspection the market reveals a careful organisation with sections for each product. You can spend your Birr on pungent spices, silver jewellery or anything else that takes your fancy. There’s even a ‘recycling market’, where sandals (made out of old tyres), coffee pots (from old Italian olive tins) and other interesting paraphernalia can be found.
Situated in the highlands of northern Ethiopia, Aksum symbolizes the wealth and importance of the civilization of the ancient Aksumite kingdom, which lasted from the 1st to the 8th centuries AD. The kingdom was at the crossroads of the three continents: Africa, Arabia and the Greco-Roman World, and was the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. In command of the ivory trade with Sudan, its fleets controlled the Red Sea trade through the port of Adulis and the inland routes of north eastern Africa.
A series of inscription on stone tablets have proved to be of immense importance to historians of the ancient world. Some of them include trilingual text in Greek, Sabaean and Ge’ez (Classical Ethiopian), inscribed by King Ezana in the 4th century AD.
The ruins of the ancient city of Aksum are found close to Ethiopia’s northern border. They mark the location of the heart of ancient Ethiopia, when the Kingdom of Aksum was the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. The massive ruins, dating from between the 1st and the 13th century A.D., include monolithic obelisks, giant stelae, royal tombs and the ruins of ancient castles. Long after its political decline in the 10th century, Ethiopian emperors continued to be crowned in Aksum.