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Landscape & Time Chris Bradley

| 23 Nov 2012

Chris Bradley is leading Cox & Kings’ A Journey Through Landscape & Time art tour in Ethiopia next year. A tour guide and lecturer with 30 years’ experience and an expert in the history and culture of the Middle East and Africa, Chris has written guides to several Middle East countries and lectures for Nadfas, the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Here, he shares with us some background to himself and the tours.

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How and why did you become interested in the 12th-century rock-cut churches of Lalibela and its architecture?

The first time I visited Lalibela in 1992 I was truly amazed by the monumental scale of the churches.  When you realise that they are all carved from the rock themselves, even my degree in civil engineering hadn’t quite prepared me for that. Their idea of creating a version of Jerusalem, one thousand years ago and in the Ethiopian Highlands, is remarkable.

What do you enjoy most about leading a specialist tour such as this?

The highland region of Ethiopia is a very special place that is quite remote, and yet visitors know more about it than they think. The Ark of the Covenant, the Queen of Sheba, Haile Selassie, Rastafarianism, and some of the best quality coffee that can be found anywhere. A traditional coffee ceremony in the very place where coffee was first tasted is a real treat.

What do you most enjoy about visiting northern Ethiopia?

It is the sheer variety of sites in northern Ethiopia that is fascinating. Axum is the ancient capital that grew wealthy on the trade of frankincense and myrrh, and was the first centre to embrace Christianity. Lalibela was a later capital and features Unesco world heritage churches, but today is little more than a village. Gondar has a wealth of strange castles and palaces, with one of the most beautifully decorated churches, while Lake Tana is a wonderfully tranquil lake dotted with island churches and the source of the Blue Nile.

What visit on the tour are you most looking forward to?

I always enjoy going to the 2,800 year old temple at Yeha, because it is a rare African example of Sabaean construction, similar to ancient structures in Yemen. It dates from around the time of the Queen of Sheba, and yet is still revealing its secrets. Every visit offers something new that the archaeologists have uncovered. I can use my knowledge of South Arabia to hopefully put it all in context.

If you could only recommend one book to read before departure, what would it be?

There is so much speculation about the whereabouts and even existence of the Ark of the Covenant; I think it is very worthwhile to look at all the evidence before arriving in Ethiopia. Graham Hancock’s The Sign and the Seal sets out to be a best-selling historical detective story searching for the Ark, but behind the sensationalism he presents the reasons why he thinks it might actually be in Axum.

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