The first episode of this virtual tour of Addis Ababa’s Mesmeric Old Town – Piassa – as the locals would call it, brought to me a challenging but inspiring opportunity of actually escorting visitors of Ethiopia from Germany into my world.
As I am being so inspired by this beautiful experience of leading a group as a local for an actual walking tour just recently through this old but charming neighborhood of Addis Ababa –Piassa/Piazza, I decide to bring the last episode of a virtual tour of my favorite neighborhood from my home town to the whole world … and I choose to go back to De Gaulle Square to finalize my adventure of rediscovering Addis Ababa’s mesmeric old town…while reliving the enchanting childhood memories as someone who grew up at this particular area.
There is no doubt that paying a visit to Piassa usually means to stopover at one or more coffee shops as this old mesmerizing old town known for its many time honored and full of character coffee shops where locals still patronize. So heading down south from De Gaulle Square to DEj JOTE or around Ethiopian airlines office in Piassa, there is of course another much adored old patisseries of Addis Ababa which scores more than 40 years in business. KYRIAZIS PATTISERIE still provides the best and delicious pastries in town within one small room and full of character coffee shop which usually overcrowded by the locals.
Continuing down further from the coffee shop … is surly to be able to experience the pleasure of glancing at more time honored buildings of Piassa with flair and dated way back during Emperor Menelik’s era (1889 – 1913 G.C.). Starting with the staggeringly elongated five-multistory residential house designed by Minas Kherbekian the Armenian architect who also designed Itegue Taitu Hotel. It is also believed to be the very first skyscraper before the Italian occupation (1936 – 41 G.C.).
From here, if one takes one of the interesting alleyways that takes way up to the Cunningham Street where more interesting old buildings, old cinema, old post office and interesting Piassa’s street life scenes to be spotted but wait …before all that, it is at the center of this particular alleyway’s of Piassa from many that the historical Ethiopia’s very first hotel –Itegue Taitu Hotel– that worth pay a visit can be found.
Like the unique architectural style of Piassa is the multinational touch of Armenia, Ethiopia, India, and Italy, interestingly its winding streets also retains another foreign names and this time it’s British.
Cunningham is one of the streets of Piassa named after one of the British officials and military men by Emperor Haile Selassie regime (1941 – 74 G.C.) to echo his gratefulness to the British officials for their military aid. But of course during the Italian occupation many Piassa’s streets used to retain Italian names like the one from De Gaulle Square all the way to Ras Mekonnen bridge (Arat Kilo – Arada) street name was Corso Vittorio Emanuel III which later renamed Haile Selassie Street.
Despite the fact the old town of Addis Ababa – Piassa- comes with street names that is foreign for Ethiopia like Waverly street and Churchill avenue, the interesting detail I would like to mention here and of course the inside truth is locals use mostly native names for most areas of Piassa and obviously that would make the foreign street names usually to be functional on city maps, guide books and alike.
Doro Manekia, Serategna Sefer, Mazegaja, Arada, Mohamud Muzika Bet, Giorgis, Ras Mekonnen Dildiye, Yehager Fiker, Seba Dereja and many more local names which usually used in everyday life of the locals … whether it is to meet up somewhere in Piassa or to tell the location of a particular area.
Now we are at the Cunningham Street and for many locals one of the reasons of being at this particular street of Piassais to stopover at one of the oldest cinemas of Ethiopia. The now Cinema Ethiopia or formerly known as Nageliz is one of the still operating old cinemas which is known by entertaining via local Ethiopian movies and western movies alike till this day.
Regarding entertainment, it is at this mesmeric old town that cinema was being introduced to Ethiopia during the early 20th century by screening black and white silent pictures to being a host of a pioneering event when talkie movies first brought to Ethiopia by Monsieur Glize.
Besides entertainment, the other usual reasons for many locals to be at this particular area of Piassa would be shopping or window shopping as this area also encloses many shops as Piassa is indeed the old commercial center of Addis Ababa.
Talking about shopping, Arada Business Center which is one of the oldest even the very first modern shopping center of Addis Ababa which Piassa still proudly embraces at the Cunningham Street. It is the history that it represent that makes it more impressive than its looks as the name suggest – Arada. This one Amharic word – ARADA – is the original name of this mesmeric old town of Addis Ababa before christened it Piazza del Littorio during the Italian occupation.
In spite of being the original name that represent the now Piassa, at the end of the 19th century Arada was Ethiopia’s pivotal area of commerce and spot of the city’s most important bank, post office, entertainment center, local market (Arada Market) and shops way before the bustling local market of Arada moved to the now Merkato (One of the biggest open market in Africa) during the Italian occupation…so it seems like this particular shopping mall which is named after this historical commerce district– Arada – is the refection of the golden times of Piassa when it was the soul of urbanization for Ethiopia.
While capturing the feel of Piazza starting from De Gaulle Square on Cunningham Street that leads all the way at the intersection of Gebeyehu Street provides ordinary but interesting everyday life scenes of this mesmeric old town of Addis Ababa along with more time honored interesting buildings and residential houses, old post office and many more.
Talking about interesting street scenes of Addis Ababa, I pick the small street markets as I always find it fascinating and as it usually being Piassa’s signature – different kinds of amazingly colorful and fresh fruit and vegetables, outdated magazines, movie and music CD and DVD…all sold on the streets of Piassa.
The Cunningham street do lead to few different interesting alleyways that takes its visitors to the southern part of Piassa which make it more like unveiling the hidden treasures of this old town … so for today I would like to take the world through one particular narrow alleyway of Piassa which known as the Mahatama Gandhi Street which I think worth taking to really experience Addis Ababa and to discover more … so please stay with me.
Reaching at the intersection of Mahatama Gandhi and General Wingate Street means more old coffee shops, restaurant, bank, old buildings and more. When every time I found myself at this particular intersection my feet usually take me to one of the oldest patisseries of Addis Ababa or Piassa – one of those places where I can be able to pour more sugar on the sweet memories of childhood. I do really hope I can relate on this one with many other Ethiopians whom had once or twice visit the little Italy in Ethiopia through Piazza’s ENRICO.
Enrico is the first patisserie of Addis Ababa which was established by one of Italian migrants more than 50 years ago. In spite the test of time, Enrico still provides amazingly delicious pastries. Its specialties are delicate custard cakes that just melt in your mouth. The steel and Formica made of solid furnishing, vibrant picture boards of assorted Italian specialty cakes on display, the half – dozen basic tables which are usually full and the overall atmosphere of the bustling café has the power to transport you to the golden times of Piazza and even more better as my Italian friend once affirmed you could also be in Italy somewhere around mid-20th century through Piazza’s time honored Italian café – ENRICO PASTRY.
Next to Enrico there is another time honored restaurant –Oroscopo – where locals still frequent to delight in Italian dishes like Spaghetti or Lasagna in Addis Ababa.
Before heading further to cross the street and find yourself at the other exciting street – Waverly Street – another historical building dated 1905 G.C. can be found. The stone Bank of Abyssinia is indeed one of the treasures Piassa inherited from Menelik’s era …February 15, 1906 G.C. memorialized the beginning of banking in Ethiopia when the bank was inaugurated by Emperor Menelike II.
Crossing the street to continue further… couldn’t help being hypnotized by the revitalizing coffee aroma that tantalizingly emanates from another old coffee shop. To stopover for another coffee might sound extreme but believe me Ethiopia is the birth place of coffee and this mesmeric old town is at the top of the list when it comes to serving up coffee for the soul as it also comes with the very fascinating history of introducing café culture to Ethiopia in spite of the fact coffee is a religion in Ethiopia.
Legend has it, back then the locals find it strange to buy cup of coffee made out of espresso machine and enjoying it in a café outside their home as making coffee at home with Jebena (traditional coffee pot) and with all its traditional eloquent pieces from the scratch and enjoying it with family, friends and neighbors for free almost every day was and still the most valued coffee tradition of Ethiopia… so these old café’s used to be frequented by foreigners and few Ethiopians back then but they finally manage to attract the locals and played huge role on today’s interesting Addis Ababa’s Café culture.
TOMOCA is one of Addis Ababa’s must visit coffee shops. The one that you find in Piassa comes with unique character as it has been there for more than 50 years not only serving up great coffee but a pleasant ambiance to delight your soul.
Addis Ababa is one of the cosmopolitan cities of Africa, where a visitor still be able to experience the good old past that present is built up on with its very own unique African character.
And this is the final installment of my tribute to Arada/Piassa – a neighborhood created up on the historical rich era!
“To see the World in a Grain of Sand, and a Heaven in a Wild Flower…”