One of the most important collections in sub-Saharan African is housed within the walls of the National Museum of Ethiopia in the capital city of Addis Ababa. Founded in 1944, the museum is divided into four sections: paleontology and prehistory, history, ethnography and modern art. The collections together paint a picture of Ethiopia’s natural and cultural history.
The star of the collection, which includes traditional and ceremonial costumes, paintings, sculptures and relics from the Pre-Aksumite civilization, is the partial fossilized skeleton of Lucy, a female hominin who lived some 3.2 million years ago. While the original fossils belong to the museum, what’s on display for visitors is a cast of our ancient ancestor.
English-speaking guides will show you around the museum free of charge, though tips are appreciated.
The former palace of Haile Selassie — former Emperor of Ethiopia and icon of the Rastafari movement — is today the home of the Ethnological Museum. Considered among the best museums on the African continent, the Ethnological Museum takes an unusual approach to showcasing its collection of art and artifacts. Instead of dividing things based on geography or historical period, the collection is organized by life cycle.
The first section highlights infancy and childhood with information on birth rites, children’s tales and childhood games. The segment on adulthood includes artifacts and information on Ethiopian religion, medicine, warfare, art and culture, while the final area includes burial structures and tombs, with insight into post-death beliefs.
Other galleries in the museum include the living quarters of Haile Selassie, a collection of religious art and one of the largest collections of icons in the world.
If you’re going to visit only one museum in Ethiopia, make this the one. Consider planning your visit at the beginning of your trip for a sweeping overview of Ethiopian history and culture.
Address: Algeria St Piazza Haile, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Hours: Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 5pm