Located in the easternmost peninsula of the continent, the Horn of Africa, Gondar served as Ethiopia’s capital from 1632 to 1855. Today, it is full of fantastic monuments. By Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy. I had no experience. Why on this planet should a motel in Northern Ethiopia be known as Florida? “It’s an acronym for the owner’s family members—Fatima, Lola, Omar, Redwan, Iyman, Dawit, and Apabu, the owner,” the supervisor explained conspiratorially. Florida International would function as our base to explore Gondar, and its call would show to be the smallest of the surprises the historical town could throw at us.
It turned into May 2019—earlier than the pandemic changed the arena as we knew it—and after an eventful trip to Zambia, we have been creating a stopover in Ethiopia on the way back to India. Our articulate manual Charlie, an MA in Social Anthropology from the University of Gondar, met us outside the city’s centrepiece Fasil Ghebbi, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The royal enclosure housed the simplest castle in Sub-Saharan Africa, earning Gondar the label ‘Camelot of Africa’. Until the sixteenth century, Ethiopia’s Solomonic emperors had no constant capital however lived in royal tented camps. They spent the wet season close to Lake Tana, and the encampments at Emfraz, Ayba, and Gorgora flourished into cities.
For centuries, Orthodox Christians held sway over Ethiopia, however within the late 1500s, they lost to the Somali Adal Sultanate. To provide useful resources to the beleaguered Ethiopians, explorer Vasco da Gama’s son, Christopher, took 400 musketeers from Goa to Massawa and marched via Eritrea to Gorgora. The Portuguese have an impact on Susenyos, the king of Ethiopia, customary Catholicism because of the state religion. After the Orthodox Christians defeated the Muslims, Susenyos’s son, Fasilides, got here to save energy. But lakeside Gorgora became ravaged via malaria, so in 1635, King Fasilides determined to create his first strong capital at Gondar, 35 kilometres north of Lake Tana inside the Ethiopian highlands.
According to Amharic traditions, a buffalo led the emperor to a pool beside River Angreb where an old hermit advised him to establish his capital. Folklore apart, the region became of strategic importance. Situated among rivers and fortified with the aid of seven mountains, it was near ports like Sudan and Massawa and lay at the centre of caravan change routes to Egypt, Yemen, the Middle East, and Timbuktu. An altitude of two,260 metres gave it bracing weather. The metropolis was called Gon-dar or ‘essential metropolis’.
An azmari (‘minstrel’ in Arabic) performs the masenqo, a unmarried- string lute. Fasilides had the pool stuffed, built a citadel and two churches—Fit Mikael and Fit Abbo—as a way of preventing epidemics.
“Architecture, like music, is a regular language,” said Charlie profoundly, leading us through the royal complex. It became surprising to see one of a kind styles—Indo-Portuguese designs, Mughal arches, the Star of David, Moorish and Berber impacts—all fused into Gondarine Ethiopian structure. Red volcanic tuff became used for creation, and the balconies and doors have been made of ebony. The corner turrets had three home windows; every opened to a view of a distinctive church. Local girls in headscarves, and couples and households in matching apparel posed for photographs. At 32 metres, Fasilides’ 3-storeyed fort towered above all the different systems. Surrounded by a one-kilometre-long wall, the complicated might be accessed with the aid of 12 huge gates.
The third palace in Fasil Compound, Joshua/Iyasu Palace is fondly referred to as ‘Saddle on Horseback’ and resembles a saddle—to highlight the emperor’s horsemanship. A veteran of eleven battles and an avid tax collector, Iyasu extended his barriers to Egypt, Yemen, and Sudan, and adorned his castle with ivory, Venetian mirrors, cedar, and a ceiling covered in gold leaf and precious stones. Here, Charlie confided, “The British bombed the arch roof throughout WWII but easily blame it on an earthquake.”
Villagers hawk clay dolls at Woleka, as soon as home to the Beta Israel network or Ethiopia’s Black Jews
Walking past a library, horse stables, Fasilides’s archive in which royal parchments are saved, and Dawit’s and Bakaffa’s palaces in the royal enclosure, we reached Mentewab’s Castle. The 18th-century Ethiopian empress became Emperor Bakaffa’s consort. We were informed that her name was supposed to be ‘You’re so stunning’, and he or she apparently won a beauty contest—despite the fact that she changed into the handiest player! Each monument of Gondar held an awesome tale. Some held greater than tales. Until 1991, the lion cages inside the rear compound held black-maned Abyssinian lions: symbols of strength.
For over centuries, Gondar served as the capital of the Ethiopian Empire—till Tewodros II was crowned emperor in 1855 and he moved the imperial capital to Magadala. Hailed as ‘Hero of the Millennium’, Tewodros II’s statue stands armed with a forked spear, guard, and sword at Gondar’s foremost roundabout, the Atse Tewodros Square. When we visited the web page, familiar looking blue and white Bajaj autos scurried round like serfs carrying out royal missives. Gondar ravaged numerous instances for the duration of the civil war, two times via Sudanese invaders, and was occupied through Italy in 1936. That’s why the Downtown region and principal piazza bear Italian influences. During WWII, six months after Addis Ababa fell to British forces, Mussolini’s armies made their final stand at Gondar in November 1941.
Gondar as soon as had forty four church buildings but few live to tell the tale today: Takla Haymanot Church, Church of St Michael, the ruins of Azezo Jesuit Mission, and the Debre Birhan Selassie Church. Legend has it that a swarm of bees stored the latter from marauding Sudanese armies. Built with the aid of Emperor Iyasu in 1682, it possesses first rate work of art. Most Ethiopian church buildings are round; however this one has a rectangular front and semi-circular return, symbolic of Noah’s Ark. The 12 towers around the church represent the 12 Apostles.
The Debre Birhan Selassie Church is known for its putting work of art.
Gondor’s other enchantment is the mid-17th century Fasilides Bath, a rectangular pool with a crucial -storeyed summer season palace. Larger than an Olympic pool, it was built to facilitate mass baptism and reconversion to Orthodox Christianity. Every January, it’s far from the site of Timkat (Ethiopian Epiphany), commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Water is channelled into the pool through an aqueduct from a river, and hundreds of pilgrims take holy dips and renew their baptismal guarantees. The rest of the 12 months, it lies parched and forlorn, the gnarled roots of historic badian trees lining the fringe. During the dinner party, an uncommon matchmaking ceremony takes place—eligible bachelors throw lemons at potential brides; if they seize, select, or smell it, it is the method they are involved in. Charlie told us he once threw 60 lemons; he’s nonetheless a bachelor.
The festival is held on the 17th-century Fasilides Bath, a rectangular pool that was built to facilitate mass baptism.
Our explorations made us starve, so we moved quickly to a broadly marketed diner, The Four Sisters Restaurant. A pleasant chap poured us a few tej (honey wine), even as girls with kohl-rimmed eyes served Ethiopian espresso and unveiled the ‘countrywide dish’.
Think of it as an Ethiopian thali with small quantities of lamb tibs (sautéed meat strips), shiro (chickpea stew), kitfo (raw minced red meat), pork sauce, and lentils and greens served on injera (sourdough flatbread) made of top notch grain teff. We washed it down with local beers like Habesha and Dashen, named after Ethiopia’s highest peak: Ras Dashen (4,550 metres).