The Semien Mountains, in northern Ethiopia, north east of Gondar in Amhara region, are part of the Ethiopian Highlands. They are a World Heritage Site and include the Simien Mountains National Park. The mountains consist of plateaus separated by valleys and rising to pinnacles.
Famous for its dramatic highland scenery, the Simien Mountain National Park constitutes a world heritage site, and the mountains’ jagged peaks (or ambas) frequently serve as a backdrop to Ethiopian tourist initiatives. These gigantic pieces of rock are, in fact, hard cores of volcanic outlets from which the surrounding material has eroded away over the centuries.
The variation in shape and size of the ambas is quite stunning, and the region includes many summits over 13,000 feet, culminating in Ras Dashen, which at 14,901 feet is the 3rd highest peak in Africa. Simien Mountains National Park is also known for its endemic walia ibex, a very large mountain goat of which only about 60 survive today.
Other specifically Ethiopian animals live in the park, including the Abyssinia wolf and the gelada baboon. The bearded vulture is also a common visitor and nests in the sheer rock faces.
Gondar was the imperial capital from the 17th to mid-19th centuries, and today visitors can see the imperial compound, with castles still in good condition (some recently restored by UNESCO after bombings in World War II), and also the bath of King Fasilides, where at Timkat (Ethiopian Epiphany) a nearby river’s course is purposely changed to bring its flow in to fill an area the size of a small swimming pool. This is the sight of a traditional re-enactment of the baptism of Christ, where worshippers plunge into the pool every January 19th.
Although many of Gondar’s churches were destroyed during the Mahdist invasion from Sudan in the 1880s, one very fine example, Debre Berhan Selassie, was saved, according to the legend, by a swarm of bees, which routed the invaders. The walls and ceiling are completely covered with murals. Also worth a visit are the ruined palace of Queen Mentowab, and the church of Qusquam.