Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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DERESSE Ayenachew, Debre Berhan University - Ethiopia / Institute of Advanced Studies - France

The Šawān kings established their kingdom on the ruins of Ethiopia’s medieval heritage. To legitimize their expansion to the south, they claimed a mission to restore the lost glory of the medieval Christian kingdom of Ethiopia. This discourse of restoration was legitimized by the search for medieval sites, which were identified from chronicles and oral accounts, as well as by ‘archaeological’ excavations. However, it would seem that the Šawān kings had no interest in conserving the ancient ruins once they had used them to expand their kingdom. They erected new monuments over identified medieval sites. The verb used for “restore” is addassa አደሰ, which means renewal rather than restoration. After the battle of Adawā (1896), for example, Menilek II (1889-1913) pursued a program to renew the medieval churches, destroying the medieval ruins once they had served their purpose of expansion in Šawā. The Šawān kings were more interested in restoring intangible heritage than in preserving the physical traces of history. Their vision of the new era was to build over the ruins of the past. The two capitals Addis Ababa and Addis Alam, built on the ruins of medieval sites, were renamed as a paradigm of the concept of renewal, አደሰ. This paper seeks to show how the identification of medieval heritage was used to support the Šawān kingdom’s political discourse of territorial expansion. It also sheds light on how this notion of renewal shaped ideas of heritage conservation in Šawā in particular and in Ethiopia in general.