Gondar

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Fasil’s Castle

One of my readers has asked me to provide a bit of background information about Gondar. Until the late 16th century, the rulers of Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) had no fixed capital. They lived a nomadic lifestyle in tents, camping in the high plains. Portuguese missionaries arrived, bringing Catholicism and European ideas of military architecture. in 1635, Emperor Fasilides built a permanent fort as his capital on a hilltop at Gondar in the foothills of the Simien Mountains. After 200 years, Emperor Tewodros II moved the capital to Magdala.

Following the Italian invasion of in 1936, Gondar was developed as the administrative capital for Italian East Africa. A piazza in the centre of the upper town is surrounded by buildings in the fascist art deco style favoured by Mussolini. In World War 2, Italian forces made a last stand in Gondar before being overcome by Allied troops. Much of the colonial architecture is gently decaying concrete, but still being used. The Italian Governor’s residence, complete with a Swedish cast iron cooking range in the basement, has been converted to the Fogera Hotel.

A left-wing military junta called the Derg came to power after the death in custody of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1975. Thousands of opponents of the new regime were tortured and killed in Gondar. Many middle class Ethiopians fled the city and walked 100 miles to the Sudanese border, before reaching the USA as political refugees. It is said that every family in Gondar has at least one relative in the USA.

Gondar Post and Telecoms Office
Gondar Post and Telecoms Office
Ethiopia Hotel on the Piazza with a statue to Emperor Tewodros
Ethiopia Hotel on the Piazza with a statue to Emperor Tewodros
The entrance hall to the Ethiopia Hotel, which serves excellent macciato coffee
The entrance hall to the Ethiopia Hotel, which serves excellent macciato coffee
Macciato coffee
Macciato coffee – 12p a cup
Minibus Taxi, packed with customers who pay a few birr for a trip across town.
Minibus Taxi, packed with customers who pay a few birr for a trip across town.
Bajaj are the Ethiopian version of the tuk tuks of Thailand. More expensive, but more fun than minibuses.
Bajaj are the Ethiopian version of the tuk tuks of Thailand. More expensive, but more fun than minibuses.
Open backed Isuzu lorries, decorated with the names of US Presidents and/or English Premier League soccer clubs, are known as "Al Qaeda" to the local Peace Corps volunteers - because they are just as lethal
Open-backed Isuzu lorries, decorated with the names of US Presidents and/or English Premier League soccer clubs, are known as “Al Qaeda” to the local Peace Corps volunteers – because they are just as lethal
Sheep and goats in a side street by the market
Sheep and goats in a side street by the market
Orthodox priest outside St George's church in the castle complex. A wooden cross in one hand and a leather bound bible in the other, he blesses the congregation as they arrive
Orthodox priest outside St George’s church in the castle complex. A wooden cross in one hand and a leather bound bible in the other, he blesses the congregation as they arrive. It was Ethiopian St George’s Day on 2nd November. The chanting over loudspeakers started at midnight and continued until 10am.
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2 Replies to “Gondar”

  1. It’s great to learn something about Ethiopia – one of my ‘must find out more about’ areas. Just remember the Ethiopian restaurants in Nairobi – the feel-good tej and fresh roasted coffee. That last photo is especially splendid, Ian.

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