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Ethiopia: Yeha

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Yeha | Ethiopia | Africa

[Visited: November 2006]

When you enter the village of Yeha, with its stone houses and dusty roads set in a pretty valley in northern Ethiopia, it seems hard to believe that this was one of the major cities of the region. But then again, the heydays of Yeha lie more than 2000 years ago, and a lot has happened since. It predates the Axumite empire, when Yeha was the capital of the Damot empire. By the time Axum achieved its climax, Yeha had already declined in power, and has probably looked much the way it looks nowadays.

Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Ancient temple of Yeha: one wall of the temple

After paying your entrance fee and going through a gate, you have to cross a small cemetery before reaching the ancient temple of Yeha. This is the oldest still standing construction of the country, and it looks very solid indeed. The blocks of stone that perfectly fit on each other and that have held the building for so many centuries without mortar, give a very sturdy impression. It is still not clear what this temple was initially built for, it is thought that the Sabaean civilization built it for their pagan faith, and a deity named Ilmukah. Moreover, finds of statues and engravings suggest some kind of fertility cult.

Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Yeha temple: blocks of stone neatly fitting into each other

In the 6th century, Abba Afse, one of the so-called Nine Saints, founded a monastery in Yeha, in which some of the stones found in the ancient temple were being used. Unfortunately, the church remained closed to us, but at the same time, we were allowed a visit to the small and charming museum adjacent to the church building. In it, the priest showed us some remarkable slabs of stone with writing in Sabaean and Ge'ez, as well as well-preserved ancient holy books made of goat skin. When he sang some religious songs in Ge'ez, the old Christian language of Ethiopia, the museum got a special atmosphere. Afterwards, we had a peek at Grat Beal Gebri, ruins of an ancient structure with square pillars.

Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Stone ibexes: originally part of the ancient temple of Yeha, they are now used in the church
Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Ancient temple of Yeha: part of the wall
Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Yeha: corner of the ancient temple
Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Temple of Yeha
Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Church of Yeha: corner
Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Tigraian landscape outside the ancient temple of Yeha
Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Lion head in the hills as seen from Yeha
Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Stone slabs engraved with ancient writing at Yeha
Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Ancient goat skin books in the museum of Yeha
Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Small museum of Yeha
Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Grat Beal Gabri: remains of an ancient construction
Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Wall of the ancient temple of Yeha
Picture of Yeha (Ethiopia): Priest of the church of Yeha reading one of the ancient goat skin books

Around the World in 80 Clicks

Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Yeha (Ethiopia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Yeha.
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