From the 1960s, a successful slogan of the Ethiopian Tourism & Hotel Commission boasts the “thirteen months of sunshine” that characterize Ethiopia. The reference is to the ancient calendar that still punctuates the liturgical life of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and which provides, next to the canonical twelve months of thirty days, a further month, of 5 or 6 days depending on the year. But the slogan also effectively highlights the environmental variety of the country, so in each of these months, in some of its regions, climatic conditions are favorable to tourism. The environmental variety of Ethiopia derives first of all from its orography, characterized by often dramatic altitudinal changes and resulted from a turbulent geological origin linked to the formation of the Rift Valley, the Red Sea, and the related tectonic and volcanic phenomena. In Ethiopia it is indeed possible to switch sharply from the lowland regions or even from the Afar depression, which is more than one hundred meters below the sea level, to the over 2,000 meters of the plateau reliefs, with the peaks of the Semien mountains, in the north, reach 4,550 meters.

The difference in altitude is coupled with a monsoon climate regime, characterized by a high seasonality. The combination of these conditions has created many ecological niches that explain the extreme environmental diversity of this region. In a short space many different environments can be crossed, which have favored the adoption of different economic systems by the populations that have inhabited them, contributing to their cultural differentiation. But the differentiated distribution of resources has however always favored seasonal movements and the interaction between different populations, which often depend strictly on each other, having developed complementary and synergistic economic strategies. The beauty of Ethiopia, both environmental and cultural, lies precisely in this extreme differentiation and in the connected unity that goes beyond it.

In ancient times, in whose earliest periods Ethiopia was the cradle of current humanity thanks to the many mineral, animal and vegetable resources that its diverse ecological niches offer, the region played a central role in the long-distance trade networks, providing for centuries ivory, aromatic resins, ebony and gold to the rest of the ancient world. For this reason Ethiopia and the other regions of the Southern Red Sea were at the center of the interest and imagination of the ancients, being often depicted as lands loved and frequented by the gods. After a few centuries of oblivion, in which only rare echoes of the region and its people reached Europe transfigured in the descriptions of the fabulous and powerful kingdom of the legendary Priest John, the casket of Ethiopian beauties was gradually opened up again in the 16th century: then the era of the travelers and, later, explorers begins, which constitutes the basis for the scientific acquaintance of the region.

This exhibition wants to follow in an imaginary journey some of the explorers who mostly contributed to the comprehension of Ethiopia, trying to present to the visitor the feeling of wonder that often shines through the pages they left us. Starting from the descriptions contained in some of their works, whose valuable editions are kept in the Library of the Società Geografica Italiana, the environmental and cultural wealth of Ethiopia will be evoked by beautiful photographs and documentary movies by Carlo and Marcella Franchini and by various items and zoological finds from the ethnographic collection of the Natural History Museum of Verona.

Without the pretension of making the visitors reach such a level of internalization of the Ethiopia experience, the hope is that, thanks to the multiplicity of documents, objects and images presented here, they can at least appreciate the richness represented by the environments and cultures of the country, their millennial roots, the systemic synergy between diverse that characterizes it, reserving perhaps a further deepening of the experience thanks to a journey, this time real, in this land of variety and beauty.

Andrea Manzo