Ethiopia's 40-acre Imperial Palace compound that has housed the country's leaders and the troops for over a century has remained shrouded from the public since its establishment in 1887 by Emperor Menelik II. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has however finally opened a portion of the compound to the public as a symbol of coming together and boost tourism.
The Menelik Palace, also known as the Imperial Palace, is a palatial compound in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. For decades it has been the seat of power for Ethiopia's emperors and currently serves as the offices and residence of the Prime Minister.
Historically, the Imperial Palace established in 1887 by Emperor Menelik II not only housed the country's rulers but also bore witness to its political sagas. Between 1889 and 1913 Menelik II reigned and oversaw the country's defence against Italian colonisation in 1896 during the first Italo-Ethiopian War. Renowned Emperor Haile Selassie also lived in the Imperial Palace before he was overthrown in 1974 after which the compound was used by the military and civil governments for state activities.
According to the office of the Prime Minister, a section of the compound is being opened to symbolize "our ability to come together" while also boosting tourism and jobs.
The 15-acre refurbished section known as Unity Park is made up of a mixture of landscaped open areas, renovated palace buildings and animal enclosures that will house wild dogs, cheetahs, lions, baboons, monkeys, flamingos and an aviary. A separate enclosure will feature the Abyssinian Lion that is indigenous to Ethiopia.
The restored palace buildings include the Throne House containing the golden-filigree headwear of Menelik and other former emperors such as Lil Eyasu, Menelik's private quarters include a raised walkway to the so-called "Egghouse," an elaborate tower with intricate woodwork decorating its spiralling stairwell and Empress Taitu's quarters, as well as other buildings that housed the princes, princesses and guests who came to pay homage and petition the emperor.
"It's fascinating to get in here, as I am Ethiopian and I never knew what was here before," Akilu Fikreselassie, who works with the United Nations on urban development told CNN. "It shows people they have access to their leaders and will help build trust. Having the park will also help with changing the urban dynamic of the city."
Additionally, various historical artefacts such as Menelik's curved swords, his umbrella and fly swatter, and panels giving historical information can be found throughout the rooms. To boost the historical attractions are eateries, a book shop, and cafes.
CNN reports that as well as symbolizing a government that is meant to be leaving behind an authoritarian past, the unveiling of Unity park is part of ongoing efforts to beautify a rapidly growing city chock-full of five million residents and rampant construction.
"(The palace) will add value to our tourism ... it will help Ethiopia," Samrawit Moges, founder of Travel Ethiopia, the first company in the country to use female guides told CGTN Africa.
"But tourism is a very delicate sector that can change the country for better or for worse ... we need to give high importance to the environment."
Tickets to the park cost 200 Ethiopian birrs for locals (approx. $7) and 1,000 birrs for a full-day pass with a guide. Foreigners will pay a $20 entry fee and $50 for the full-day package.