The historical heartland of Ethiopia, the north of the country has a history dating back thousands of years in the ancient capital of Axum. From around 200BC to 700AD, Axum was the seat of an empire that extended across the Red Sea to Arabia. It traded with India and China, had its own alphabet and notational system, constructed great engineering works and dams, and was reckoned in the fourth century to be one of the four great powers of the world. It is also the supposed resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, brought from the court of King Soloman by the fabled Queen of Sheba.
The most famous site on the northern route is Lalibela, the ‘new Jerusalem’, which was built by King Lalibela ‘with the help of angels’ in the 12th century, and is now a world heritage site. The area also encompasses the old imperial capital of Gondar, known for its many medieval castles, Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile and largest lake in Ethiopia, and Simien Mountains National Park, home to one of Africa’s largest ranges with at least a dozen peaks over the 4,000-metre mark.