by Dr Hanna Rubinkowska

to north ethiopiaThis village is located, off-the-road about 40 km from Debre Birhan (and 172 km from Addis Ababa) through the hilly area and dusty roads.

Ankober today is typical of the villages of the southern Ethiopian highlands where several cottages scattered in the Shewan Mountains bordering the Afar region.

However, it is not only the beautiful landscapes and rural culture that makes this place worth visiting; Ankober is one of the most historical places in Ethiopia and, as far as I see, it is also the cultural heart of the province of Shewa.

The people of Ankober say that the dynasty of Shewan lords ruled from these mountains since the time of Emperor Yikuno Amlak in the thirteenth century. Yikuno Amlak is known in Ethiopian tradition as the one who restored the so-called Salomonic dynasty.

This line of emperors did not belong to one family but claimed their origin from the Queen of Sheba (called Makeda by the Ethiopians), King Salomon and their son, Menelik I; according to legend the latter was the first emperor of Ethiopia.

This is the same dynasty which Menelik II and Haile Sellasie I, both powerful emperors of the 20th century Ethiopia, belonged to.

Both Menelik II and Haile Sillase I were the great-grandsons of Sahle Sillase, the most renowned ruler of Ankober. Menelik II was the last emperor to have resided in Ankober before moving to Addis Alem, Intoto; eventually he constructed what is today’s capital city, Addis Abeba.

There are still remains around the area from the days when Ankober was an important Ethiopian city. Historical churches are scattered throughout the area.

It is believed that five of them were built by the rulers of Shewa, including two by the powerful Sahle Sellasie.

Every morning before sunrise, the sound of the stone church bells are heard in the surrounding area, signifying the beginning of the day. Today, only part of a wall (approximately 1,5 metres high and several metres long) remains from the palace of Menelik II and his forefathers.

However, a few years ago, a hotel was constructed in the previous location of the palace shaped like the royal compound. Reachable only through a rigorous climb, it is located on a high hill with extraordinary views of the neighboring mountains as well as the Afar plains.

The tradition, which binds the people of Ankober and Oromo, says that the Ankober hill was once home to  an Oromo ruler, a queen called Anko. As “ber” means “door” in Amharic language, Ankober literally means “a door to Anko”. Due to Ankober’s history, several visits by European delegations were made.

Its prosperity blossomed under Sahle Sellasie and it is during this time that Europeans began to settle. The place of the so-called “British legacy” or whatever little remained of it, is situated in this area.

Ankober served as the beginning of the salt caravan route, which also included the Gulf of Aden as well as the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

This area’s trade reminds one of another place of interest situated in the vicinity of Ankober: Aliyu Amba is a village, inhabited both by the Christian Amhara and Muslim Argobba people in more or less equal proportions.

Situated in this area is where the culture of Ethiopian Christian from the highlands and that of the Muslims from the plains meet. It used to serve as a starting point for another caravan route and as a slave market.

Today, a traditional market where mostly food and animals are sold and bought takes place every Monday. The place is untouched by tourists, even though its atmosphere as well as the city wall and the remains of Harer are impressive.

Another quite remarkable feature of Ankober is endemic birds. From the lodge’s balcony as well as other parts of the surrounding mountains, one can spot birds, unseen anywhere else, with magnificent presence.
Overall, Ankober is one of my favorite places in Ethiopia and thankfully still undiscovered by many.

Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska

Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska has traveled extensively throughout Ethiopia and is a regular contributor to this blog.

She has specialized in modern history of Ethiopia and currently lectures at Warsaw University, Department of African Languages and Cultures.

Dr. Hanna Rubinkowska (Ph.D.)

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