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Ethiopia: a 2700‑year-old temple reconstructed with help from Germany

Northern Ethiopia is home to one of East Africa’s most important archaeological sites. Together with Ethiopian colleagues, German archaeologists are protecting the local cultural heritage.

The “Great Temple”, as it is called by locals in the small village of Yeha, was erected in the seventh century BC in the northern highlands of Ethiopia. It was built by people who had resettled there from Sheba in present-day Yemen, in the style of southern Arabian temples. The remains of the temple are still standing and are 14 metres tall. It is the most important pre‑Christian sacred building in East Africa. It was damaged by a massive fire already during antiquity, and for many decades it was in danger of collapsing. To preserve this piece of cultural heritage, the Sana’a office of the Orient Department of the German Archaeological Institute, together with the Ethiopian conservation authority, has been conducting substantial restoration work since 2009. This includes installing a stainless steel support structure and restoring the walls. 

Preserving cultural heritage and training local workers 

The project includes a training component, for which experts work closely with the local population. A key focus of these activities is protecting and keeping alive local cultural identity. The conclusion of the substantial restoration work was celebrated with a grand opening on 15 March. This tourist attraction in Ethiopia has now been reopened and can again be visited by Ethiopians and international guests. 

A temple for the Sabaean god Almaqah 

Entrance to the Great Temple of Yeha, with newer graves in the foreground

Entrance to the Great Temple of Yeha, with newer graves in the foreground
© Holger Hitgen/Orient-Abteilung des DAI

Bild vergrößern
Entrance to the Great Temple of Yeha, with newer graves in the foreground

Entrance to the Great Temple of Yeha, with newer graves in the foreground

Entrance to the Great Temple of Yeha, with newer graves in the foreground

The Great Temple of Yeha was dedicated to the Sabaean god Almaqah. The sacred building is still visible for miles around today. It was built not with local sandstone, but with smooth blocks of snow-white limestone that had to be laboriously transported to the site from quarries near Wuqro located some 80 kilometres to the east. The holy site was not only of religious significance, but also symbolised the power of the Dʿmt kingdom, which developed already early during the first millennium BC in the Ethiopian highlands. 

The Great Temple was severely damaged, and large parts of it were destroyed, during a massive fire that occurred presumably during the middle of the first millennium BC. It was only thanks to a church being built inside the structure during the 6th century that the temple was not completely destroyed. Following substantial restoration work and the grand reopening, this important historic monument can again be visited by tourists. The project is an outstanding example of successful German-Ethiopian cooperation in the domain of cultural preservation and with a view to developing this region for sustainable tourism. It also serves as a pilot project for other cultural preservation projects in the region. The restoration work received financial support from the German Archaeological Institute. 

A twelve-year, long-term project of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) supports academic research into the archaeology and history of the region surrounding Yeha. The project is being co‑implemented by the German Archaeological Institute and Friedrich Schiller University Jena.


Last updated 16.03.2017

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