Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is situated in the Horn of Africa. This landlocked country boasts a rich history, compelling antiquities, enchanting landscapes, remarkable biodiversity, and a fascinating motley of people rivaled by very few other countries in the world. Here are some interesting facts about Ethiopia.
Facts about Ethiopia
1. Ethiopia is the fourth-largest landlocked country in Africa and the sixth-largest landlocked country in the world.
Occupying a total area of 1,104,300 km² (426,400 sq mi), Ethiopia is the fourth-largest landlocked nation in Africa behind Chad, Niger, and Mali. It is also the 26th-largest country in the world. Comparatively, Ethiopia is roughly twice the size of metropolitan France
2. Ethiopia shares a land border with six countries.
Ethiopia is bordered by Somalia (1,640 km/1,019 mi) to the east, Kenya (867 km/539 mi) to the south, Eritrea (1033 km/642 mi) to the north, Djibouti (342 km/213 mi), South Sudan (1,299 km/807 mi) to the west and Sudan (744 km/462 mi) to the northwest.
3. Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world, as well as the second-most populous in Africa.
With a population of around 115 million, Ethiopia is easily the world’s most populous landlocked nation and is also Africa’s second-most populous country behind Nigeria.
4. The highest peak in Ethiopia is Ras Dashen.
Located in the Semien Mountains in northern Ethiopia, Ras Dashen (or Ras Dejen) is the country’s tallest mountain. It rises to an elevation of 4,550 m (14,930 ft) making it the tenth-highest peak in Africa.
5. Ethiopia is home to the third-lowest point below sea level on land in Africa.
Ethiopia’s lowest point can be found in the Danakil Depression located in the Afar Region of the northeast. At -125 m (-410 ft) below sea level, the Danakil Depression is the third-lowest point in Africa.
6. Ethiopia is home to the saltiest water body on Earth.
One of the most fascinating facts about Ethiopia is that it is home to the most saline water body on the planet—so salty in fact that it makes the hypersaline Dead Sea seem like tap water.
According to Guinness World Records, Ethiopia’s Gaet’ale Pond, located in Danakil Depression, is the saltiest water body in the world, with a percentage of salt by weight of 43.3% (mainly calcium chloride and magnesium chloride).
7. The source of the Blue Nile is located in Ethiopia.
Lake Tana, which is located in the northwestern Ethiopian highlands, is the source of the Blue Nile River. The Blue Nile is one of the two major tributaries of the Nile River—the longest river in the world. It is also the source of most of the Nile’s water.
8. Ethiopia’s calendar is 7-8 years behind the rest of the world and Ethiopians celebrated the new millennium in 2007.
Based on the ancient Coptic calendar, the Ethiopian calendar is seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar due to alternate calculations in determining the annunciation date of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Ethiopian calendar has 13 months in a year, out of which 12 have 30 days. Pagume—the last month, has five days, and six days in a leap year. As a result, the country celebrates some important holidays on days that are different from the rest of the world.
The Ethiopian New Year, also known as Enkutatash, occurs on 11 September (or 12 September in the year before a leap year) in the Gregorian calendar. Thus, Ethiopians welcomed the new millennium on 11 September 2007. Also, Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on 7 January.
While Ethiopians still continue to use the Ethiopian calendar, most Ethiopians are aware of the Gregorian calendar and some use the two calendars interchangeably.
9. Ethiopia was once part of the ancient Kingdom of Aksum.
Aksum was the name of a city and a kingdom which is essentially present-day northern Ethiopia (Tigray Province), Djibouti, and Eritrea. The kingdom existed between the early 2nd century and the 10th century, and its polity was centered in Aksum city. According to legend, Aksum is believed to be the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.
At its apogee in the 3rd–6th centuries, the Aksum empire was reckoned to be one of the world’s foremost powers. It encompassed both sides of the southern Red Sea controlling all seaborne commerce between Ancient India and the Roman Empire. However, from the 7th century, increased competition from Muslim Arab traders saw Aksum begin to decline.
10. The oldest hominid skeleton was discovered in Ethiopia.
The first pieces of the Ardipithecus ramidus (“Ardi”) skeleton — including much of the skull, hands, limbs, and pelvis — were discovered at a site called Aramis in the Middle Awash region of Ethiopia in 1994. Researchers eventually found more than 100 specimens from other individuals of this species
When reconstructed, Ardi was a female who weighed about 50 kg (110 lbs) and stood about 120 cm (3 ft 11 in) tall. Ardi is 4.4 million years old, 1.2 million years older than the skeleton of “Lucy”, or Australopithecus afarensis, the famous hominid fossil also found in Ethiopia in 1974.
Ardi is not the long-sought “missing link” — the ancestor that scientists say humans and apes have in common but comes close. Hominids are fossil species closer to modern humans than to chimps and bonobos—our closest living ancestors.
11. Ethiopia is one of two African countries considered never to have been colonized.
One of the interesting pieces of trivia about Ethiopia is that it is one of two African countries that (arguably) escaped the clutches of the European imperialists. In the late-19th century, about 90% of the continent was appropriated by Europeans during the so-called “Scramble for Africa.”
Ethiopia had secured its independence when Ethiopian troops won a crushing victory over Italian forces at the Battle of Adwa on 1 March 1896, who had sought to incorporate the nation in its already considerable colonial empire in Africa.
However, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, hoping to rebuild his nation’s prestige lost in the Battle of Adwa, commanded the second invasion of Ethiopia and on 9 May 1936, Italy succeeded in annexing Ethiopia. It was not until 5 May 1941, when Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was restored to the throne, that independence was regained.
Although it was under Italian occupation from 1936–1941, Ethiopia is considered “never colonized” by most historians, because it did not result in a lasting colonial administration.
12. The country of Eritrea formerly a part of Ethiopia.
As part of the losing side in World War II, Italy relinquished its legal right to Eritrea and its fate was left up to the UN General Assembly. From 1941 to 1952, Eritrea was under British administration. Meanwhile, in Eritrea, there was a large independence movement that wanted the country to become its own sovereign state.
While Eritrea’s fate was being decided, Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie launched a campaign to annex Eritrea, claiming that it had always been part of Ethiopia’s domain. Being a landlocked nation, Ethiopia greatly desired Eritrea’s Red Sea access.
In 1952, the UN decided that Eritrea would become part of Ethiopia, as an autonomous federal province with its own constitution and elected government. Not content with Eritrea’s autonomy, Emperor Haile Selassie unilaterally dissolved the Eritrean parliament and annexed the territory in 1962.
This triggered the Eritrean War of Independence, which lasted for nearly 30 years before Eritrea finally gained formal independence from Ethiopia in 1993.
13. Ethiopia was formerly referred to as “Abyssinia.”
The name “Abyssinia” derives from the Arabic word ‘habash’, which means “mixture” or “mongrel,” in reference to the different races dwelling there.
Although Ethiopia was called “Abyssinia” for a long time (and still is in some languages), the name of the country has always been “Ethiopia” within the country.
14. Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa is the highest capital city outside of South America.
Situated at an altitude of 2,355 m (7,726 ft) above sea level, Addis Ababa is the world’s fourth-highest capital and the highest outside of South America. It is also Ethiopia’s commercial and cultural hub,
Addis Ababa is known as “the political capital of Africa” and serves as the headquarters of several international organizations such as the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
15. The currency of Ethiopia is the Ethiopian Birr (ETB).
The name “birr” began as a local-dialect synonym for the Maria Theresa thaler (Ethiopia’s former currency in the 18th and 19th centuries) and named after the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire.
16. The name “Ethiopia” is of Greek origin.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the name “Ethiopia” stems from the Greek word “Aethiopia,” which in classical times referred to lands south of Egypt in the Upper Nile region. It means “Land of the Burnt Faces.”
17. Electricity was introduced to Ethiopia through capital punishment.
One of the most interesting Ethiopia facts is how the country was introduced to electricity in the late-19th century. Electricity was introduced to Ethiopia in 1896 after Emperor Menelik II ordered two newly invented electric chairs as a form of human capital punishment and realized they were useless in his country without electricity.
18. Ethiopia is home to a smorgasbord of ethnic groups.
Although Ethiopia is home to approximately 80 different ethnic groups, its population can be broken down into nine broad groups. The Oromos, who migrated to Ethiopia from present-day Kenya in the mid-16th century, are the country’s largest ethnic group and constitute approximately 35% of the population. The Oromos are predominantly concentrated in central and southern Ethiopia.
Making up around 28% of Ethiopia’s population, the Amhara are the second-largest ethnic group in the country. The Amhara have dominated Ethiopia’s history, politics, and society since the late-13th century.
Other prominent ethnic groups in Ethiopia include the Tigrayans (~7%), Somalis (~6%), Sidama (~4%), Welaita (~3%) , Hadiya (~2%), Gurage (~2%), and Afar (~1%).
19. More than 80 languages and 200 dialects are spoken in Ethiopia.
Most Ethiopians speak Afroasiatic languages of the Cushitic or Semitic branches. The four most spoken languages in Ethiopia are Oromo, Amharic, Tigrinya, and Somali, which are spoken by about three-quarters of the country’s population.
Although Oromo is the most populous language by native speakers in Ethiopia, Amharic is the most populous by the number of total speakers and serves as the working language of the country. It is written left-to-right using a system that grew out of the Geʽez script.
20. Ethiopia was the second country in the world to adopt Christianity as its state religion.
One of the lesser-known pieces of trivia about Ethiopia is that in the mid-4th century it became the world’s second country (after Armenia) to adopt Christianity as its state religion. Christianity served as the official religion of Ethiopia until the demise of the monarchy in 1974.
Approximately 40-45 % of Ethiopians are followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, a Christian confession associated with the Coptic Church and incorporating elements of Monophysite Christianity. 20-25 % of the population are Evangelical or Pentecostal Protestants. Although Christianity is largely concentrated in the highlands of northern Ethiopia, its influence is felt in the entire country.
Muslims, who make up about one-third of Ethiopia’s population, can be found in the outlying regions, particularly in the eastern, southern, and western lowlands, but there are local concentrations throughout the country.
21. The word “Rastafari” comes from the former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie’s original name.
Although Rastafarianism has its roots in Jamaica, Ethiopia is considered its spiritual home. The red, yellow, and green colors associated with the Rastafarian movement are the colors of the national flag of Ethiopia.
The term “Rastafari” stems from “Ras Tafari Makonnen”, the pre coronation name of Haile Selassie—the former Ethiopian emperor who is essentially posited by Rastafarians as an incarnation of God. In Amharic, “Ras” is a title similar to chief or head.
22. The oldest surviving illuminated Christian manuscript is an ancient Ethiopic Gospel Book.
The Garima Gospel of Ethiopia is the world’s earliest illustrated Christian book. Discovered at an Ethiopian monastery, carbon dating has shown the Garima Gospel to date between 330 and 650.
23. Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa and the third-largest Arabica coffee producer in the world.
Ethiopia is Africa’s largest coffee producer and the third-largest Arabica coffee producer in the world by volume and value following Brazil and Colombia. Of the two main species of commercial coffee, Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) has relatively higher demand (over 70% of the world coffee market) due to its higher beverage quality.
There are many legends about the origins of coffee, but it is generally thought that its heritage can actually be traced back to the Ethiopian plateau. Today, coffee plays a vital role in Ethiopia’s economy and contributes to a large share of the country’s exports.
Ethiopian coffees such as Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, Harar, Nekemte, and Limu are highly acclaimed and are placed in the elite class of premium single-origin coffees such as Hawaiian Kona coffee, Indonesian Toraja coffee, or Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
24. The Ethiopian wolf is the world’s rarest canid.
The Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simensis) is considered to be the world’s rarest canid with fewer than 500 remaining in the world. Endemic to Ethiopia, it is found in the highlands of Ethiopia and remains the most threatened carnivorous species in Africa.
25. Ethiopia is home to the second-highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa.
Home to nine, Ethiopia is only behind South Africa in number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa. Some of the notable UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ethiopia are the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela, Aksum, Lower Valley of the Awash, and Simien National Park.
26. The first black African Olympic gold medalist was Ethiopian marathon runner Abebe Bikila.
Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila created history at the 1960 Rome Olympics when he became the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal. Amazingly, he opted to run the marathon barefoot as his new shoes were giving him blisters.
Despite that setback, Bikila managed to win the race in world record time, and also went on to win the marathon in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as well.
27. The national dish of Ethiopia is Doro wat.
Often regarded as the national dish of Ethiopia, doro wat is a type of rich, fiery, spice-laden stew called “wat”, in this case, made with chicken, or “doro.” It consists of chicken drumsticks or wings accompanied by a hard-boiled egg served in a hot sauce of clarified butter, chili, onion, cardamom, and berbere (a red Ethiopian spice mix).
Doro wat is often eaten with injera—a soft, bubbly, pancake-like flatbread made from the country’s indigenous teff flour.
28. Ethiopia is home to more than 30 endemic mammal species.
More than 30 endemic species call Ethiopia home including the Mountain Nyala, Bilen Gerbil, Walia Ibex, Menelik’s Bushbuck, Big-headed African mole-rat, and the Gelada (the bleeding-heart monkey or the ” gelada baboon”).
29. Ethiopia was engaged in a two-decade-long conflict with Eritrea over its borders.
After Eritrean independence, relations with Ethiopia were initially good and the Eritrean Red Sea ports of Assab and Massawa remained open to Ethiopia free of charge. However, in 1998 relations between the two countries deteriorated rapidly when a border dispute, centered around the hamlet of Badme, exploded into violence.
The outbreak of hostilities from May 1998 to June 2000 claimed approximately 70,000 lives from both sides. The ‘no war-no peace’ scenario continued until a peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia was signed in July 2018 formally ending their 1998-2000 war. This led to the two countries reopening their borders and reestablishing communication and transportation ties.
30. Ethiopia boasts Africa’s only indigenous rose species.
Ethiopia is home to Africa’s only indigenous rose species—the Rosa abyssinica. This beautiful rose is famous for its white & creamy fragrant flowers and orange climbing hips.
31. The colors of the Ethiopian national flag served as the inspiration for the flags of many African nations after independence.
Green, red, and yellow are the colors of the Ethiopian national flag without its emblem. These are also commonly referred to as the “Pan-African” colors. Upon independence, many of the colonized African countries admired Ethiopia’s resilience for preserving its sovereignty from long-term colonization by a European colonial power and thus ended up adopting the colors of Ethiopia’s flag.
Examples of nations to have adopted the colors of Ethiopia’s national flag are Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, and Togo.
32. Football is the most popular sport in Ethiopia.
Like in most of Africa, football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the country’s men’s national football team has tasted very little success at the international level apart from winning the CAF African Cup of Nations in 1962 and has never even qualified for the FIFA World Cup.