1. The thing that amazed me most was the interior of the churches in Lalibela. The churches in Lalibela are carved into the volcanic rock. Imagine, you are on a mountain made of volcanic rock. Then there is a rectangular trench dug out. Then in the center of the trench, there is a large rectangular building, carved completely out of the rock. Then, in the building, there is the interior of a Romanesque bascilica. With arches and columns, with lintels and posts around the doors, with a barrel vault over the center aisle. How does anyone design and build such a thing? In the 12th century? I am still amazed. It boggles the mind to consider. One guide book said that if these churches were anywhere else but Ethiopia, they would rank up there with the pyramids as one of the wonders of the world. Quite frankly, I can't imagine any thing I have ever seen as being more awesome.
2. There are several legends about Christianity coming to Ethiopia. The one I like is that a Christian Syrian merchant was traveling back from India and stopped for water in Ethiopia and converted the people in the time of the apostles. Now, let's think about that. In the first century, people were traveling from the eastern shores of the Med down to the Red Sea and into the Indian Ocean and to India (which was further east then than now, but still...).
3. There was a large Jewish population in Ethiopia and there are still Jews there now. Since there was a huge Jewish diaspora from I believe the Babylonian captivity, why should this surprise me, but it does.
4. Italian artists traveled to Ethiopia in the 1600s painting church icons.
5. The Axumite Empire until the 5th or 6th C AD covered vast territory including parts of the Arabian peninsula.
My education in world history focused on Greece, Rome and Europe. But the vast area from the eastern Med eastward to China and Japan was filled with traders. Christianity traveled to India and China and Ethiopia. During the European dark ages, this area was filled with scientific progress and learning. Algebra was invented (in central Asia.) The writings of the Greek philosophers survived in the Islamic world, not in Europe. I am amazed at how Eurocentric we remain today.