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Ancient Ethiopia's Great Temple of Yeha (In Amharic)

Today’s The World Around Us will be presented in Amharic and English, with subtitles in Amharic, Arabic, Aulacese (Vietnamese), Chinese, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mongolian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Thai.

The fascinating civilization of Ethiopia evolved in the earliest known city of Yeha, which dates to the 5th century BC. Located in a beautiful and serene agricultural region, Yeha holds the ruins of the Great Temple of the Moon.

Yeha as a capital played a great role in the development of architecture, especially in terms of temples. It was an important historical time in Ethiopian history, because the Axumite Kingdom, which came to existence later in the beginning of the first century AD, flourished as a kingdom, because the kings inherited the culture of the Da’amot kings. So there were such economic relationships. They inherited the scripts, Sabaean scripts. At the same time, the Axumites raised obelisks to be used as grave markers.

So what we understand is that when the powerful Kingdom of Axum emerged as a powerful kingdom, it did not all of a sudden come to existence, but the Axumite Kingdom inherited a lot of important historical, cultural elements from the pre-Axumite Kingdom, which was called the Da’amot. And Axum is located at a distance of about 54 kilometers, far away from Yeha. This shows that when the Da’amot Kingdom was in existence, it’s believed that there were even other settlements, which were parts of the Da’amot Kingdom.

For example, we have a place which is near to Axum, located at a distance of about 15 kilometers, and it’s believed that a similar culture to the culture, which was flourishing in Yeha, was even practiced at around Axum. This shows that when the Da’amot Kingdom was in existence, the territories of Axum were included. That’s why in the very beginning in the first century AD, when the Axumite Kingdom came into existence, it took parts of the Da’amot’s king’s culture as elements of development, because as the Axumites at the same time, they raised obelisks to be used as grave markers.

At the same time, they used the Sabaean scripts. To some extent later on, this was derived from the Sabaean scripts. That’s why we say still now, Yeha played a great role in African history in general, at the same time in Ethiopian history. The town of Yeha is almost about 2,500 years old since it was established, and we have good evidence, still now we have the ruin of the temple, which is still standing, which was built around the beginning of the 6th century BC. And the type of culture developed at Yeha was a mixture of two civilizations.

It was African and Middle Eastern civilization. Because I mentioned about the immigrants who came with the culture they had from Yemen. It’s believed that they inter-married with the local people. So that was the way how the Da’amot Kingdom was formed. For this reason, we say that this civilization was a mixture of two civilizations: a mixture of African and Middle Eastern civilization. Especially, the influence was so strong from South Arabia or from Yemen.

But historians believe that around 150 BC for unknown reason, the Da’amot Kingdom was collapsed. Beside the ruin of the temple, which was for the moon god, which was called Almouqah, we have a Christian monastery. Because from the beginning of the 6th century AD, Christianity was introduced to the surrounding by one of the Nine Saints named Abune Aftse. He was the one who preached Christianity around Yeha and he built the first monastery. In the very beginning, he converted the temple into a church. He used the temple as a church for about 38 years. Later on, he shifted to some meters from the original temple and then he built the first Christian church or monastery at Yeha near to the ruin of the temple.

So these days, the society we have around Yeha, predominantly we have Christian community. And we have, again, the monastery dedicated for the founder of the monastery named Abune Aftse. So we understand that after Christianity was introduced, the transition was made from non-Christianity to Christianity. So historically, Yeha is an important town.

We have again some mountain hills around Yeha. At the same time, Yeha is located near to the Adwa Mountains. This chain of mountains are these days considered to be like a national park. So, near to Adwa Mountains, we have again the hills around Yeha. Especially if we look that structure which is natural but it looks like a lion, this is to show that especially in Ethiopian history, although this is natural, the lion was an important animal. Especially if we take the Solomonic dynasty kings, they used to believe that even they descended from the Lion of Judah. So here we have again, at the important historical town of Yeha, we see a structure which looks like a lion, but this is not manmade or artificial, but it’s natural.

Here we have the ruin of the temple which was for the moon god called Almouqah, and it’s believed that this type of architecture was not very common in Ethiopia before the coming of the immigrants from Yemen. But it was very common in Yemen, because in the southern part of Arabia, there was a kingdom, and within this kingdom it is believed that southeastern architecture was common. They built even temples similar with the structure to the temple we have nearby to the ruin of the temple.

It’s about 18.5 meters by 15, so it’s a type of rectangular building, it’s a rectangular building. At the same time, if we speak in terms of the type of stone used, they used a type of stone which is called limestone. And they are interlocked with each other. Because when we see them externally, they look very smooth.

At the same time, these people were good at stonework. They didn't use mortar, no mortar between the stones. This is because the stones are interlocked with each other. Some of the block of stones, they measure about three meters. One of the biggest stone is about three meters and it is almost about 2,500 years since this temple was built. The temple had a corridor and it had a roof and a big door. The door was about five meters wide.

At the same time, if we see the interior part of the temple, there were some divisions. But the present-day temple’s height is about 11 meters. So this is still now standing. That’s why historians categorize this building as the oldest standing building in Sub-Saharan Africa.

At the same time, Yeha was the first town in Sub-Saharan Africa. So we say urbanization in Ethiopian history, particularly and generally in Sub-Saharan Africa, was started at Yeha. Again, we see that this stonework was so advanced and we understand that the geology by itself played a great role for the culture, because nearby, near to Yeha, we have different hills and mountains. It’s believed that they had a quarry where they brought these limestone pieces, so they were transported from the quarry.

The Ethiopian calendar, also called the Ge'ez calendar, is the principal calendar used in Ethiopia. A seven- to eight-year gap between the Ethiopian and Gregorian calendars results from alternate calculations in determining the date of the Annunciation of Jesus.

Yes, we have a difference of about seven years. Sometimes we have additional months. It’s believed that until the beginning of the 6th century AD, both Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian calendar and the Gregorian calendar were all the same. But there was one person from the Roman Empire who changed the calendar, but Ethiopia remained with the oldest way of counting the years. For this reason, we have a unique calendar under the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. So generally, Ethiopia has its own calendar which is very unique, especially in Africa. So this year is 2003, for example, to give you a good example. This, for example, this day is May 1, 2003 but for the westerners, it is 2011. Also, it’s the same month, but we have a different way of counting the years. The difference is not only in terms of the years, but also even in terms of the way how we count the hours.

The Yeha Temple has a museum where artifacts of historical significance are exhibited.

So in this traditional museum, we have two different types of artifacts: We have pre-Christian artifacts. At the same time, we have artifacts which are again post-Christianity, I mean after the introduction of Christianity. So some of the artifacts are… We have this stone structure, which is believed to be the design of the Moon Temple, which is located at the compound.

At the same time, here we have the foot washer. Again, we have the scripts, these are the Sabaean scripts, and from these scripts we understand that the Da’amot kings or the Da’amot Kingdom as a kingdom had a writing system. So this was historically an advancement. It’s believed, again, the symbol for the type of religion which was practiced at that time was believed to be a half-moon and star; we call it the crescent.

So this was like an incense burner; they burned incense as an… as you know, as an offering. Then we can see some crosses. Especially this cross is believed to be the real hand cross of the founder of the monastery. So the founder of the monastery was named Abune Afste, he was one of the Nine Saints, so it’s believed that this was his hand cross.

We have again other crosses, and over there we have manuscripts, produced manually. So the tradition is still maintained. Where we go next, we have two crosses, wooden crosses, and it’s believed that these two crosses were donated by King Gebre Meskel. He was an Axumite king, ruling in the beginning of the 6th century AD. Finally, we have two metal or copper crosses, and these crosses were donated by Emperor Haile Selassie.

So this is a type of necklace which dates back to 900 BC. So you see, it is very historical. So this is almost 2,900 years; it’s an important artifact. They used beads. It’s a type of necklace made up of stone beads. The paintings in general have a spiritual value. At the same time, an illiterate people, faithful, can learn the history of the Bible from the paintings.

Wow! We have just concluded our tour of the great Temple of the Moon of Yeha, the ancient city of Ethiopia. May this architectural symbol continue to be preserved as a reminder of the Ethiopians’ magnificent heritage.

Gentle viewers, thank you for joining us today on The World Around Us. Words of Wisdom is coming up next, here on Supreme Master Television. We wish you God’s abundant love.

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