Classic Ethiopia Tours

Saint Mary of Tsion

The most sacred shrine in Ethiopia is the 17th-century Church of St. Mariam (St. Mary) of Zion in Axum, which stands next door to the chapel housing the Ark of the Covenant. Nearby is the newer and larger church, also called St. Mary of Zion. Although the present building is relatively new, the Church of St. Mary of Zion has impressively ancient roots. Some experts believe this great church in Axum served as the model for Bet Medhane Alem, one of the most impressive of the rock-carved churches in Lalibela.


Axum was the first Christian kingdom in the world and the largest outside the Roman Empire. Situated on the caravan trade routes to Arabia, Nubia and Egypt, Axum traded as far away as Greece, Rome and Constantinople. In 1635, St. Mary of Zion was reconstructed by Emperor Fasilidas on the ruins of the church that had been destroyed by the Muslims, and this is the church that stands today. In the mid-1500s, the forces of Ahmed Gragn "the Left Handed" had swept across the Horn of Africa from Harar in the east, for a time threatening the extinction of Ethiopian Christendom.

The destruction and rebuilding of the church has become an important part of its meaning for Ethiopians. Surrounded by Islamic countries, overrun several times, and brought to the brink of extinction, Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity regards itself as a bastion against Islam.  In 1955, to mark his Silver Jubilee, Emperor Haile Selassie founded a new Church of St. Mary of Zion next to the old one. It was completed in 1964. Emperor Selassie interrupted the state visit to Ethiopia of Queen Elizabeth II to attend the dedication of the Cathedral. The British monarch visited St. Mary of Zion herself a few days later. Unlike the original St. Mary of Zion, the new St. Mary of Zion allows entrance to women.

In 1965, Emperor Haile Selassie built a relic's chapel next to Old St. Mary's to hold the church treasures and the revered Ark of the Covenant. Axum was in the battle zone during the liberation war against the central government in the 1980s. Marxist forces plundered 83 churches in the area and killing a number of priests. Inside the church is a vestibule, and beyond that is the Holy of Holies, closed to everyone but the priests. Male pilgrims cannot go beyond the vestibule and women are confined to the courtyard.

Historical Attraction sites

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The Axum Kingdom

Thursday, 27 May 2010

AXUM in its day was a great commercial centre, issuing its own currency and trading with Egypt, Arabia, Persia, India and even Ceylon. The settlement was also the site of Ethiopia's oldest church, which dated back to the coming of ...

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Lalibela

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Lalibela a  medieval settlement in the Lasta area of Wallo, lies at the centre of an extensive complex of rock churches. Some can be reached by one or two hours'  drive, others are a full day's journey. Lalibela has 11 ...

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Gonder

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Gonder was the 17th Century capital of Ethiopia, and is notable for its medieval Castles and churches. The City's unique imperial compound contains a number of Castles built between 1632 and 1855 by the various Emperors who reigned during this ...

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Harar City

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The city of Harar is an ancient (1520) and holy city. Always an important trading centre, the city is famous for its ancient buildings, its great city walls and as a centre of learning muslim scholarship ( the town has ...

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Bahar Dar

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Bahar Dar is a small town set on the south - eastern shore of lake Tana, where local fishermen still use papyrus boats, and just 30 km from the spectacular Tissisat Falls. Here the Blue Nile creates " Smoking Water" ...

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Debre Damo

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Debre Damo monastery is situated on an isolated mountain in northern part of Tigray. It is unique compared with most Ethiopian monasteries. Debre Damo was built, in the sixth century AD, with curved wood panels, painted ceilings and walls dedicated ...

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Lucy (Australopithecus)

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Lucy (also given a second (Amharic) name: dinqineš, or “Dinkenesh,” meaning “You are beautiful” or "you are wonderful") is the common name of AL 288-1, several hundred pieces of bone representing about 40% of the skeleton of an individual Australopithecus ...

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Yeha

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The oldest standing structure in Ethiopia is located in Yeha: the Great Temple. This is a tower built in the Sabaean style, and dated through comparison with dated structures in South Arabia to around 700 BC; although no radiocarbon dating ...

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Holy Trinity Cathedral

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Cathedral commemorates Ethiopia's liberation from five years of Italian occupation. It is also the second most important place of worship in Ethiopia (after St. Maram in Axum), and the ...

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