Historical region of Country
III. Christian art. The peoples of Semitic language who occupied the N-central part of the Ethiopian highlands took their culture from South Arabia and from the eastern Hellenistic and Roman world; this mixture of influences, with some of a local character, gave Ethiopian culture a formal Christian aspect, from the 4th c., with the spread of the new religion in the country. The oldest Christian monuments in Ethiopia are found along an ancient road that climbs from Adulis to the highlands and goes through Qohaito, Toconda, Cascase and Ieha, to Aksum.
Churches of the first type are externally rectangular, with apse generally square; the body of the building is usually divided into 3 aisles by 2 rows of monolithic pillars; the material is always stone. During the Middle Ages, the center of Ethiopian civilization moved from the regions of Aksum toward Lasta, where, at Imraha, the church shows a new structure: the pillars dividing the church into 3 aisles support arcades; the sanctuary is formed of 3 rooms, the central one covered by a small dome, while the nave is raised above the aisles.
The most important monuments of the Zagwe period are the churches excavated in rock using a particular technique consisting of the isolation of a block of rock in order to work it, inside and out, into the form of a building. These types of churches are found in other parts of the Christian world, esp. in Cappadocia. As for ground plan, their forms differ: the churches of Libanos and of Mary at Lalibela present an Aksumite structure; others have 5 aisles or are cruciform, such as the church of St. George at Lalibela. Essen/D¼sseldorf Subway Map They often have arcades, on pillars, and women’s galleries. The church of Golgotha at Lalibela is unusual in having sculptures of saints and an altar with the symbols of the four evangelists. With the advent of the Solomonid dynasty 1270, we see a great decline, and church buildings assume new forms bearing no relation to the earlier ones. Round churches become more and more common in this period. Essen/D¼sseldorf Subway Map The medieval churches are usually decorated with paintings, while in some of them, e.g., the church of Debre Damo, we find inlaid wooden panels. There are immense numbers of sacred vases, crosses, thuribles, tabot sacred stones and other richly ornamented liturgical furnishings in metal, often precious metal. The artistic genre that survives in greatest numbers, however, is that of codex miniatures, though unfortunately the oldest of them hardly go back beyond the 14th c.; the style and iconography of these parchment miniatures show a descent from Egyptian and Syrian styles.
Around the 15th c. Ethiopia was influenced by Western artists, as is easily seen, e.g., in the church of Martula Maryam in Gojam, Essen/D¼sseldorf Subway Map and in the miniatures. Finally we cannot pass over in silence the most widespread popular artistic genre in Ethiopia: the depictions and illustrations that decorate so-called magic scrolls asmat or talsam. The oldest collection of protective prayers goes back to the 14th c., and the ornamental motifs most recurrent on these parchment texts are angels, saints, crosses, the Virgin, geometrical designs and other depictions, the humblest and most spontaneous suggested by the imagination.