At 2355m, Addis Ababa is one of the worlds highest capitals so it doesnt get too hot. In 48 hours, you can see its palaces, museums, churches and the largest open air market in Africa.
I arrive early in the morning at the rather shambolic airport and after a short trip to my hotel to freshen up, Im off to the St Mary Church.
Today is the climax of the Festival of Assumption of the Virgin and hundreds of people, dressed in their finest whites, are making their way to the celebrations.
Outside the church, theyve brought out the sacred Ark of the Covenant, and theres chanting, accompanied by Ethiopian rattles and large drums, before the priest gives his sermon. Worshippers approach and make donations in exchange for blessings. Im the only foreigner and I feel privileged to be here.
The main wide boulevard in Addis is called Churchill Avenue, as the famous man helped rid them of the Italians and all the major sights lead off from here. Traffic is chaotic – vintage Lada taxis vie for space with ancient single decker buses spewing fumes. Ramshackle stalls lining the pavements sell everything, often in the shadow of unfinished buildings.
It takes some getting used to but its an attractive capital, surrounded by a crown of hills. If it all gets too much, theres good coffee on every corner – not surprising as the beans are endemic to Ethiopia.
The Piazza district, built by the Italians is the upmarket shopping area with excellent restaurants. Food is often served on Injeera, a spongy sour dough flatbread, and you tear off a piece and scoop up meat and sauce. Wash it down with Teji, a traditional honey wine, or one of the excellent local beers.
The National Museum of Ethiopia features archaeology and anthropology exhibitions, as well as a collection of contemporary Ethiopian art. Its also home to the skeleton of 3.2 million-year-old Lucy, the grandmother of humanity discovered in 1974. The real bones are under lock and key, but two casts are on display, one lying down while the other is standing – our ancestors really were small.
The Ethnographic Museum was once Emperor Haile Selassies palace, and the royal bedrooms and bathrooms have been left untouched. The museums exhibits are arranged thematically, starting from childhood, then adulthood to death. Upstairs theres a selection of traditional musical instruments from across the country.
The Red Terror Museum is a memorial to the victims of the communist Derg who ruled from 1974 to 1987. The walls are papered with photos and names of some of the estimated half a million killed. Many were buried in mass graves which have been exhumed and some of their gruesome contents are on display.
Holy Trinity Cathedral
Built in the 1940s to celebrate liberation from the Italian occupation of WW2, this pinnacled Cathedral, with its large copper dome, is the most important church in the city. The ornately decorated and painted interior contains the massive granite tombs of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife Empress Menen Asfaw. Alongside are the imperial thrones, made from white ebony, ivory and marble.
St George Cathedral
This stark neo-classical octagonal church style, was commissioned by Emperor Menelik II to celebrate his 1896 victory over the Italians, and dedicated to St George. Inside, gilded stars twinkle in the sky blue ceiling and the walls have paintings and mosaics by the renowned Ethiopian artist Afewerk Tekle. Haile Selassie was crowned here in 1930 so its a pilgrimage site for Rastafarians.
Addis is surrounded by five hills and Mount Entoto, at 3,200m, is the highest. Its where Emperor Menelik II founded the city in 1881 and his humble palace is just painted mud, with a tiled roof covered in green moss. More interesting is the museum, stuffed with imperial furniture, heirlooms and photos. His octagonal church is the oldest functioning building in Addis.