1960s exterior

We visited this museum as the first stop on our city tour with Yuhn of Liyu Tours.  It enabled him to give us a lot of background information about Addis and Ethiopia as a whole.  It really helped us to understand what we were to see over the coming weeks.  For example, Yuhn explained to us about how Ethiopia became landlocked in 1993 and the reasons why, despite the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea being only 20 km from the coast, he has never seen the ocean!  He also told us about the origins of the Ethiopian flag and the significance behind the colours found on it.  The green recalls the land, yellow stands for peace and hope, and red is symbolic of strength.

Yuhn explaining the geography of Ethiopia

As I alluded to in my previous post, we were incredibly impressed by Yuhn and his tour company.  His knowledge was second to none and his enthusiasm for his subject was infectious.  All entrance fees and food and drink costs were included in his tour price, so we didn’t have to worry about anything.  He charged us $90/person/day which we felt was very good value for money.  We would recommend his services unreservedly and hope to use him again when we next visit Ethiopia.
Yuhn with the Ethiopian flag

Anyway, back to the museum!  The collection on show here is considered to be amongst the most important in sub-Saharan Africa.

We began with the palaeontology exhibition in the basement.  Here we met some amazing extinct creatures, including the giant pig ‘Notochoerus’.  I had no idea that pigs were ever that big!  The star of the show, though, was Lucy, a fossilised hominid discovered in 1974.  Although what we saw were casts (the real bones are kept out of sight in the museum’s archives), I still felt a real connection with this petite ancient ancestor of ours!  I was particularly struck by an information board headed ‘And the world became African’ explaining how all human life as we know it today began not far from the spot where I was now standing!

Empress Zewditu Menelik
Also on display on this level were portraits of every Ethiopian leader from Emperor Yohannes (1872 – 1889) to Meles Zenawi (1991 – 2012), including Empress Zewditu Menelik (1916 – 1930) who bore a striking resemblance to Queen Victoria!

On the first floor of the museum there was a vivid display of Ethiopian art, from early fourteenth century pieces to modern oil paintings, including work by Afewerk Tekle, Ethiopia’s most famous artist.  Yuhn pointed out to us that, in early Ethiopian art, the ‘baddies’ were always depicted with only one eye.  He also showed us a painting of a centuries-old banquet where the waiters were walking between the tables carrying whole sides of uncooked beef and inviting diners to slice off what they wanted with their own knives.  The practise of eating raw meat has a long history in Ethiopia!

Banquet with raw meat

The top floor of the museum houses an exhibition of traditional arts and crafts, many of which still have significance in Ethiopia today.

All in all, the national museum is well worth a visit, particularly to give context to future travels around Ethiopia.

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