It’s Black History Month and if there’s someone who deserves the spotlight, it’s definitely Etegue Taitu. Now, unless you’re Ethiopian or your are a historian, you may have never heard of her. But we are here to enlighten you.
Taitu was an Ethiopian empress who founded the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. She was a proud Ethiopian known for her resistance to the “modernists” who wanted to “develop” Ethiopia according to western norms, customs, and mores. When the Italians attempted to colonize Ethiopia in the 1890s, Taitu held a hard line against them, and she herself marched with the Imperial Army of Ethiopia. She led a force of soldiers and fought the Italians at the historic Battle of Adwa, where she defeated the Italians and ended their occupation of the country. This victory is by far the most significant win against European colonialism in all of Africa. And so, Ethiopia remains the only African nation that was never colonized.
Thank you Taitu!
Knowing this, you can imagine how excited we (as both history buffs and fans of super-badass women) were to visit a hotel that was established by Empress Taitu herself (alongside her husband Emperor Menelik II). The Taitu Hotel was built in 1905, making it the first hotel in Ethiopia. It is located in the hill of the Piazza neighbourhood where the old and new meet sublimely.
When you enter the hotel, you’re not just walking into a hotel – you’ve set foot inside a historic museum and living time capsule. It’s a virtual trip through a time machine! The hotel’s structure, furniture, art pieces, and just the decor in general take you back 100-200 years. And with good reason. The two-story hotel is a wooden structure built with mostly clay and grass that has remained virtually unchanged over 100 years. Unbelievably, it’s made of mud, and is both beautiful and eco-friendly! Check it out for yourself (images below).
Living in the 21st century, it’s easy to get used to the impermanence of things. That’s why the Taitu Hotel was so striking. While the hotel owners and staff have clearly made some concessions to modernity by running phone wiring and internet through the place, the bulk of everything else in the hotel was clearly very, very old. That said, the care taken by the staff to maintain everything was quite evident.
The sense of history of the hotel wasn’t the only thing mesmerizing us, however. In addition to the old furnishings and structure, there was an unbelievable number of paintings and art pieces in the hotel. Pottery, sculptures, and photos lined all the walkways and stairwells. They were al evocative of different areas and eras of Ethiopian history and culture. All were endlessly fascinating.
On the second floor of the hotel, dozens of striking paintings hung on the wall. The sheer, near-daunting variety of the paintings found in the hotel showcased the many different art styles that characterize the country’s art:
The Taitu Hotel was just absolutely stunning in the sheer amount of history and art on display. And somehow, there’s even more to be had. Obviously, there were guest rooms (duh! It’s a hotel), live jazz music (every night), a bar (lots of alcohol), and a nice outdoor restaurant with a delicious vegan buffet served everyday [Henry: There is also another restaurant for meat eaters – don’t worry, fellow carnivores!].
Even if you don’t spend the night there, there will be absolutely plenty to see and take in just by visiting. We went in there just expecting to stay for about an hour; by the time we left, well over three and a half hours had passed. The fact that neither of us realised or even noticed the passage of time was a testament to just how stunningly gorgeous and interesting the place was. All told, if you visit Addis Ababa, you need to visit the Taitu Hotel at least once.
And with that, we must say again: Thank you Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Africa, and world for giving us marvels to see and experience all the time!