Go to Ethiopia for Ancient History, Jazz, and a Capital City on the Rise

Head from the cradle of civilization to the new cultural hot spots of Addis Ababa.

As a history nerd and seeker who has read my fair share of Peter Matthiessen, I’ve found my peak travel moments have tended to occur on the crowded ghats of Varanasi alongside bathing sadhus or among the daveners by Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. There’s something about seeing ancient ritual enacted in the present that is both disorienting and oddly reassuring in this increasingly deracinated world. Which is why Ethiopia found its way onto my Pinterest board.

Home to a 1,700-year-old Christian civilization, the country has long drawn pilgrims to its high-altitude rock churches and the palaces of royals who claimed to be descended from Israel’s King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. But years of conflict—the toppling of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 by the Marxist Derg, which ruled until 1991, and wars against Somalia and Eritrea—made Ethiopia a no-go until pretty recently. Today, the Chinese are investing in new highways and finishing an airline terminal and monorail in Addis, seat of the African Union, where the vibe is decidedly Make Ethiopia Great Again.

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