If topography offers insight into a nation’s unique historical character, then Mount Entoto serves as the eyepiece to Modern Ethiopia.
Sitting on the tip of Entoto’s high plateau, about 3,200m above sea level, there was once a palace which was the official residence of Emperor Menelik II. Surrounded by the chain of Entoto, around a dozen kilometres northeast outside of Addis Abeba’s city limits, the palace was built when Menelik was still king of Shewa.
About thirteen years later, the same place was an important fortress for the Emperor to make his war plan against the Italian Fascist forces. Soon after his mission was accomplished in 1896 over the Battle of Adwa in the Tigray region, the victorious Emperor and his wife, Empress Taytu Bitul, moved to a novel capital they had set their eyes on. In the new city of Addis Abeba, the Imperial Palace was built.
After Menelik, the palace remains the seat of government where heads of states would reside in. The current regime is no different, with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne making a living there.
The city of Addis Abeba – for all its paved streets, high-rise buildings and glamourous palace – remains within a full view of Mount Entoto, a historic mountain covered widely by trees. The fresh aroma from the numerous young eucalyptus trees across the vast field at the foot of the mountain is refreshing to the lungs. One of the first eucalyptus seedlings were imported from Australia more than a century ago. They now have enormous trunks and many branches. They have grown tall and appear intact.
One of the trees was planted in the backyard of the palace of Entoto and is now considered one of the oldest eucalyptus trees in Ethiopia. Although the palace has long been converted into a museum, its antique structure holds firm. Just by touching the walls made from mud, the strength and firmness that kept it standing for more than a century without the need for major refurbishing are evident.
Despite being a tourist site, one can often discern absolute quietness. There seem to be more birds living in and around the palace of Entoto than humans. On a typically quiet day, the only sounds come from church choirs who are singing hymns in one or the other of the numerous churches nearby.
Mount Entoto’s 1,300ha expanse is also home to convents and monasteries overseen by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Some of these churches were founded by Menelik II whose palace was purposely constructed in proximity.
At one point, upon the inauguration of one of the larger-sized churches, according to a documented source accessible to the public at the museum, more than 60,000 guests and residents attended and feasted. For that occasion alone, about 5,000 livestock were slaughtered.
Entoto is a fascinating and historical place for these reasons and more.
For anyone interested in what Ethiopian history looked like at the turn of the 20th century, this museum is a standing time machine. It bears one of those intimate relics we all treasure. There may be many museums and other historical places available across Ethiopia, but its unique topography and physical proximity from such an important city like Addis Abeba can also serve as a vantage point for sightseeing.
And what makes the palace so fascinating is what attracts tourists. As the number of tourists visiting the place increases, economic opportunities for local residents have apparently continued to boom.
The residents take advantage of foreign visitors by selling souvenirs. On the way out from the museum toward the city direction, makeshift souvenir shops have been erected by the roadsides. There are also those who earn their living from panhandling.
But Entoto’s status as a unique tourist attraction, however, has more to do with Emperor Menelik’s legacy than the mountain’s topography. The famous king seems more accurately judged abroad than the credence he draws back at home, particularly in the past 26 years.
Despite the stubborn stance of the government in relation to the Emperor, a vast majority of Ethiopians do not buy the state’s narrative. This can be proved in many ways, including the frequency with which Ethiopians make the trip to Mount Entoto.
As the weekend arrives, it is not uncommon to see residents of the city on an outing there. It is even truer of students on school trips from both the public and private lower-learning institutions.
In fact, it is easy for a keen observer, to notice that the former Menelik’s palace in Entoto is more admired by local visitors than the foreign ones.
In all likelihood, most of those who frequently make the trip to Entoto are not just out and about to adventure or take a panoramic view of the eucalyptus-covered forest canopy, but to admire the legacy of Menelik II.
If the topography of Mount Entoto is one of the main features of the Ethiopian highlands, the fact that Menelik II built a palace there has given it historical relevance. One that, to this day, people would picnic at.
Thanks to Menelik and his enduring historical contribution to this nation, Entoto continues to be one of the most frequently visited sights on the outskirts of Addis Abeba.
In about half an hour drive from the city centre, anyone would find it convenient to spend a few more hours on the mountain. Because, on the tip of Entoto, Addis Abeba has nothing to hide.
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