A palace that once housed Ethiopia’s emperors and also served as a torture site under the communist Derg regime, is to open to the public in a government tourism project.

The palace compound in Addis Ababa, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has rebranded Unity Park, was formally launched October 10 and will open to the general public and tourists from October 14.

Backed by the United Arab Emirates, the project cost more than $160 million, Ethiopian officials told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.

Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia’s rulers for more than a century.

Ahmed has taken an interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 — visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.

The government’s Home-Grown Economic Reform agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.

On October 10, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.

The restored rooms feature items such as Menelik’s sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace and was then detained there after the Derg overthrew him in 1974.

The Park has six destinations: a green area; a black-maned lion zoo; a traditional garden that will have over 43 indigenous plants; regional states pavilion, where regional states will display their cultural and historic assets; historic buildings; and a zoo that will have 46 types of species and 312 animals.

Five of the destinations are ready for tourists, while the sixth site, the zoo, is expected to be completed by December, according to Tamrat Haile, Co-ordinator of the Park, a tour of which takes two and a half hours.

"It symbolises our ability to come together for a common goal and cross the finish line by creating exquisite lasting prints of our collective worth," says a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister.