The history of Gondar, complete with fairy-tale castles.
Grand castles, strangely reminiscent of medieval Europe, hide behind thick walls in Ethiopia’s northwestern region. At first glance, only shadows of a past culture linger in this section of the ancient city of Gondar. Yet the castle compound offers a curious, however quiet, addition to the otherwise lively town surrounding it. Transformed by many hands throughout its history, Gondar — nicknamed the “Camelot of Africa” — stands as a beacon of Ethiopia’s bygone age, from royal and religious roots to cultural crossings and clashes.
Wedged between rich natural resources, access to the Red Sea, and powerful neighbors such as Sudan and Egypt, Gondar found its ideal location in the foothills of the Simien Mountains. This, paired with an elevation that repelled mosquitos and thus malaria, made it the perfect spot for a major city center. Yet founding a permanent city at this time was unusual for Ethiopian rulers, who tended to move their royal camps frequently; when King Fasiledes (in power 1632–1667) dubbed Gondar Ethiopia’s capital in 1636 and began constructing the first castle, he made the city something of a novelty. Each of the Ethiopian emperors who followed in the 17th and mid-18th centuries left his own structural signature, creating the royal compound known as Fasil Ghebbi.
Stepping into the usually isolated complex gives pause to the urban sounds of the surrounding town. Only the echoes of daily prayers ring through the thick air, accompanying visitors as they meander along well-worn pathways and beneath looming arches. Banyan roots grip stone walls and watchtower windows offer panoramic views of dynamic mountains. But the town’s vibrant history rivals its landscape.
Read more at: Selamta Magazine