Debre Berhan and Ankober

EQST 005 Debre Berhan and Ankober

Duration: One or Two days

Location: Debre Berhan

We set off at 7.00 am, heading north on the Asmara Road. Our first stop will be Debre Berhan, some 130 km from Addis Ababa. The great Emperor Zera Yaqob (1434 – 1468) made his imperial capital here, after seeing a “heavenly light” (almost certainly Haley’s comet), which he took as a divine sign. Later rulers abandoned the town but once again it became an important centre under the Shoan kings, notably King Sahle Selassie (1813 – 1847). However, it was largely destroyed in 1855, when Emperor Tewodros advanced into Shoa. Emperor Menelik made it his capital for a period, and visitors should see the church of Selassie which he restored in 1906.

In the town itself, visitors might like to buy the woolen hats worn by shepherd boys, and carpets with the designs characteristic of the area.

We now take the road east to another former imperial capital – Ankober, a little over 40 km from Debre Berhan. Founded by King Amaha Iyesus, Ankober commanded the very important trade route between the eastern lowlands and the Showan plateau. Abandoned by Menelik II in favour of Entoto (and later Addis Ababa), the old palace ruins can still be seen, and two of the original five churches (Mariam and Medhane Alem) are still used as places of worship.

From the town of Anokober, there are marvellous views over the escarpment, and for ornithologists there is the chance of seeing the very rare Ankober Serin, and other species such as Smith’s Francolin, Yellow Throated Serin, White billed Starling, Black-winged Love Bird, Lammergeyer, Mountain Buzzard, Peregrine, Red-breasted Sparrow Hawk, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin and Blue Rock Thrush. Wildlife recorded in the area includes: Leopard (rarely seen), Colobus and Vervet Monkeys, Gelada Baboon, Menelik’s Bushbuck, Klipsringer and Rock Hyrax, which despite its small size is a distant relative of the elephant.

One could return from Ankober back to Addis Ababa but there is now a new lodge built at Ankober in a traditional style. Using this lodge as a base, there are some great walks and hikes – one could easily spend a couple of days here, enjoying the air (it is 2870 metres asl) the great views and tranquility.