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The Semien is an area of highland country in the northern part of
Ethiopia, encompassing much of the eastern part of Gondar. Here is what
Rosita Forbes in 1925 about this area said,' The most marvelous of all
Abyssinian landscapes opened before us, as we looked across a gorge that
was clouded amethyst to the peaks of Semien
A thousand years ago, when the old gods reined in Ethiopia, they must have played chess with those stupendous crags, for we saw bishops' miters cut in lapis lazuli, castles with the ruby of approaching sunset on their turrets, an emerald knight where the forest crept up on to the rock, and far away, a king, crowned with sapphire, and guarded by a raw of pawns. When the gods exchanged their games for shield and buckler to fight the new men clamoring at their gates, they turned the pieces of their chessboard into mountains. In Semien they stand enchanted, till once again the world is pagan and the titans and the earth gods lean down from the monstrous cloud banks to wager a star or two on their sport.''
The Semien highlands constitute one of the major massifs in Africa. The highest point in Ethiopia, Ras Dejen, at 4620 meters is the fourth highest mountain in Africa. Its dramatic topography is the result of basalt lavas which have been calculated to be 3000 meters thick
The Walia live on nearly vertical cliff faces and narrow ledges in restricted area within the Semien Mountains. The gelada, a primate, which looks like a cross between a lion and baboon, is another exclusively Ethiopian species, which lives in this habitat. Over fifty species of birds have been positively identified in the Semien Mountains. The Semien region, though it is in the continent of Africa and not far from the Equator, has temperatures which sometimes drop below freezing at night. On the other hand, the sun's rays beat directly down and the rarefied atmosphere does not act as an effective filter. The visitor should thus be prepared for warm days and the likelihood of sunburn.