Stay with Dinknesh at the
south of Ethiopia in our own
Visit 1 of the
spa resorts in Ethiopia at Lake Langano or Lake
Awash National Park
Bale Mountains National Park
Simien mountains national Park
Guest Album South Ethiopia
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The Cradle of Ethiopian art and culture
Gondar, founded by Emperor Fasilidas around 1635, is famous for its many
medieval castles and the design and decoration of its churches - in particular,
Debra Berhan Selassie which represents a masterpiece of the Gondarene school of
Famous though Gondar may be, however, no one knows exactly why Fasilidas
chose to establish his headquarters there. Some legends say an archangel
prophesied that an Ethiopian capital would be built at a place with a name that
began with the letter G. The legend led to a whole series of sixteenth- and
seventeenth-century towns - Guzara, Gorgora and finally Gondar. Another legend
claims that the city was built in a place chosen by God. Apparently, He pointed
it out to Fasilidas who was on a hunting expedition and followed a buffalo to
Flanked by twin mountain streams at an altitude of more than 2,300 meters
Gondar commands spectacular views over farmlands to the gleaming waters of Lake
Tana thirty-five kilometers to the south. The city retains an atmosphere of
antique charm mingled with an aura of mystery and violence. An extensive
compound, near its center contains the hulking ruins of a group of imposing
castles like some African Camelot. The battlements and towers evoke images of
chivalrous knights on horseback and of ceremonies laden with pageantry and honor. Other, darker, reverberations recall chilling echoes of Machiavellian
plots and intrigues, tortures and poisonings.
The main castle was built in the late 1630s and early 1640s on the orders of
Fasilidas. The Emperor, who was greatly interested in architecture - St Marys
in Axum was another of his works - was also responsible for seven churches, a
number of bridges, and a three-story stone pavilion next to a large, sunken
bathing place, rectangular in shape, which is still filled during the Timkat
season with water from the nearby Qaha river.
Other structures date from
later periods. Iyasu the Great, a grandson of Fasilidas, was particularly
active. His castle, centrally located in the main compound, was described at the
time by his chronicler as finer than the House of Solomon. Its inner walls were
decorated with ivory, mirrors and paintings of palm trees, its ceiling covered
with gold-leaf and precious stones. Now gutted, haunted only by ghosts, the
intact turrets and towers of this fine stronghold reflect its past glory.
Iyasus most lasting
achievement, was the Church of Debra Berhan Selassie, the Light of the Trinity,
which stands, surrounded by a high wall, on raised ground to the north-west of
the city and continues to be in regular use. A plain, thatched, rectangular
structure on the outside, the interior of Debra Berhan Selassie is marvelously
painted with a great many scenes from religious history. The spaces between the
beams of the ceiling contain the brilliant wide-eyed images of more than eighty
angels faces - all different, with their own character and expressions. The
north wall, in which is the holy of
holies, is dominated by a depiction of the Trinity above the crucifixion. The
theme of the south wall is St Mary; that of the east wall the life of Jesus. The
west wall shows important saints, with St George in red-and-gold on a prancing
Not long after completing
this remarkable and impressive work, Iyasu went into deep depression when his
favorite concubine died. He abandoned affairs of state and his son, Tekla
Haimanot, responded by declaring himself Emperor. Shortly afterwards, in 1706,
his father was assassinated on his orders.
In turn, Tekla Haimanot
was murdered. His successor was also forcibly deposed and the next monarch was
poisoned. The brutalities came to an end with Emperor Bakaffa who left two fine
castles - one attributed directly to him and one to his consort, the Empress
Bakaffas successor, Iyasu
II, is regarded by most historians as the last of the Gondar Emperors to rule
with full authority. During his reign, work began on a whole range of new
buildings outside the main palace compound. The monarch also developed the hills
north-west of the city center known as Kweskwam - after the home of the Virgin
Mary. Most buildings there are in ruins today, including the largest - a square,
three-storey castle with a flat roof and crenellated walls embellished with a
series of bas-reliefs of various Ethiopian animals.
After Iyasu II in the
mid-1700s, the realm sank into increasing chaos with regular coups d,etat and
the rise of a rebellious nobility who became dominant in Ethiopian national
The story of Gondar,
however, amounts to a great deal more than the annals of the monarchs who ruled
there or chronicles of their rivalries and intrigues.
While it remained the
capital of Ethiopia until 1855, the city was a vigorous and vital center of
religious learning and art. Painting and music, dance and poetry, together with
skilled instruction in these and many other disciplines, thrived for more than
two hundred years. At the end of the eighteenth century a poet declaimed:
Beautiful from its
beginnings, Gondar, hope of the wretched!
And hope of the Great, Gondar without measure or bounds!
0 dove of John, Gondar, generous-hearted, mother!
Gondar, never bowed by affliction!
Gondar with its merry name!
Gondar, seat of prosperity and of savory food!
Gondar, dwelling of King Iyasu and of mighty Bakaffa!
Gondar, which emulated the City of David, the land of Salem!
She will be a myth unto eternity!
Gondars rise to prominence
under Fasilidas occurred little less than a century after Ethiopian Christendom
had come close to total destruction at the hands of the Islamic warlord, Ahmed
Gragn, whose forces swept in from the east in 1528. The fighting only ended in
1543 when the Muslim commander was shot dead by a Portuguese musketeer - one of
400 who had been sent to reinforce the flagging armies of Emperor Galawdewos.
Narrating Gragn,s fate,
the British traveler Sir Richard Burton wrote: Thus perished the African hero
who dashed to pieces the structure of 2,500 years. It was no exaggeration. Gragn,s
Jihad was a national catastrophe for Ethiopia. The Christian highlands, from
Axum in the north to the shores of Lake Tana in the west, were almost completely
overrun for more than a decade and much of the cultural legacy of previous
centuries disappeared. In a sustained orgy of vandalism, hundreds of churches -
great artistic treasure- houses - were looted and burnt and an immense booty
Gondar, beautiful from its
beginnings, rose from the ashes of this smoldering backdrop of so recent and so
traumatic a history. There can be little doubt that Fasilidas and his successors
saw their elegant capital as a phoenix and so patronized the arts. They were
doing nothing less than rebuilding their national heritage. In the process they
built faithfully on the few solid foundations left from the past, rediscovered
much that had been thought lost, and established a sense of purpose and a new
direction for the future.
A visit to Gondar is like a journey
back to medieval times it is also part of our historical tour
Dinknesh Ethiopia Tour is a proud
member of the following
Dinknesh Ethiopia Tour
In front of Teklehaimanot
Garad Building 7TH Floor
Room No. 1294-7-1
Ethiopia, East Africa
Fax No. +