In Search of King Solomon’s Mines
For more than a century Henry Rider Haggard’s novel King Solomon’s Mines has inspired generations of young men to set forth in search of adventure. But long before Rider Haggard’s classic, explorers, theologians and scientists scoured the known world for the source of King Solomon’s astonishing wealth. The Bible’s wisest king built a temple at Jerusalem that was said to be more fabulous than any other landmark in the ancient world. It was adorned with an abundance of gold, gleaned from a mysterious land known as Ophir.
Taking his leads from a mixture of texts including The Septuagint, the earliest known form of the Bible, as well as using geological, geographical and folkloric sources, Tahir Shah sets out in search for Solomon’s gold mines. For him the obvious place to look is Ethiopia, in the horn of Africa.
The ensuing journey takes him to a remote cliff-face monastery where the monks pull visitors up on a leather rope, to the ruined castles of Gondar, and to the rock hewn churches at Lalibela. Then in the south of the country Shah discovers a massive illegal gold mine, itself like something out of the Old Testament, with thousands of men, women and children digging with their hands. But the hardest leg of the journey is to the ‘cursed mountain’ of Tullu Wallel where legend says there lies an ancient shaft, once the entrance to Solomon’s mines.
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It was my friend Wilfred Thesiger who first suggested I go to Ethiopia, the country of his birth. He said I would find a society that had changed little in the way of its traditions in millennia. He was right. From the first moment I spent in that magical land, I was transfixed by the extraordinary beauty, and by the grace of the people.
We have all seen Ethiopia on the nightly news. We have heard of the famines, the wars, the struggle for life. But not until you plant your own two feet upon its soil, can you understand all that the television news segments do not show.
Ethiopia has been shrouded from the rest of the African continent for decades. Visiting it is like passing into a realm that lies parallel to our own world.
In my travels in Ethiopia, I was constantly toughed at the extraordinary generosity and friendship of the people. I encourage anyone with the time and ability to drop what they are doing, and to get themselves to the what is the secret heart of Africa.