Gondar: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

View of the city with Fasilides castle in the center
Gondar is located in Ethiopia
Location in Ethiopia
Coordinates: 12°36′N 37°28′E / 12.6°N 37.467°E / 12.6; 37.467
Country Ethiopia
Region Amhara Region
Zone Semien Gondar Zone
Elevation 2,133 m (6,998 ft)
Population (2008)
 - Total 231,977 (est)
Time zone EAT (UTC+3)

Gondar or Gonder (Ge'ez: ጎንደር Gōnder, older ጐንደር Gʷandar, modern pronunciation Gʷender) is a city in Ethiopia, which was once the old imperial capital and capital of the historic Begemder province. As a result, the old province of Begemder is sometimes referred to as Gondar. Located in the Semien Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region, Gondar is north of Lake Tana on the Lesser Angereb River and southwest of the Simien Mountains. The city has a latitude and longitude of 12°36′N 37°28′E / 12.6°N 37.467°E / 12.6; 37.467 with an elevation of 2133 meters above sea level.



Until the 16th century, the Solomonic Emperors of Ethiopia usually had no fixed capital, instead living in tents in temporary royal camps as they moved around their realms while their family, bodyguard and retinue devoured surplus crops and cut down nearby trees for firewood. One exception to this rule was Debre Berhan, founded by Zara Yaqob in 1456; Tegulet in Shewa was also essentially the capital during the first century of Solomonic rule.

Gondar street

Beginning with Emperor Menas in 1559, the rulers of Ethiopia began spending the rainy season near Lake Tana, often returning to the same location again and again. These encampments, which flourished as cities for a short time, include Emfraz, Ayba, Gorgora, and Dankaz.

Gondar was founded by Emperor Fasilides around the year 1635, and grew as an agricultural and market town. There was a superstition at the time that the capital's name should begin with the letter 'Gʷa' (modern pronunciation 'Gʷe'; Gonder was originally spelt Gʷandar), which also contributed to Gorgora's (founded as Gʷargʷara) growth in the centuries after 1600. Tradition also states that a buffalo led the Emperor Fasilides to a pool beside the Angereb, where an "old and venerable hermit" told the Emperor he would locate his capital there. Fasilides had the pool filled in and built his castle on that same site.[1] The emperor also built a total of seven churches; the first two, Fit Mikael and Fit Abbo, were built to end local epidemics. The five emperors who followed him also built their palaces in the town.

Fasilides Castle

In 1668, as a result of a church council, the Emperor Yohannes I ordered that the inhabitants of Gondar be segregated by religion. This caused the Muslims to move into their own quarter, Islamge (Ge'ez: እስላምጌ "Islam place," or "Islam country") or Islam Bet (እስላም ቤት "House of Islam," lit. "Islam house"), within two years. This quarter came to be known as Addis Alem.[2]

During the seventeenth century, the city's population is estimated to have exceeded 60,000. Many of the buildings from this period survive, despite the turmoil of the eighteenth century. By the reign of Iyasu the Great, Gondar had acquired a sense of community identity; when the Emperor called upon the inhabitants to decamp and follow him on his campaign against the Oromo in Damot and Gojjam, as had the court and subjects of earlier emperors, they refused.[3] Although Gondar was by any definition a city, it was not a melting pot of diverse traditions, nor Ethiopia's window to the larger world, according to Donald Levine. "It served rather as an agent for the quickened development of the Amhara's own culture. And thus it became a focus of national pride... not as a hotbed of alien custom and immorality, as they often regard Addis Ababa today, but as the most perfect embodiment of their traditional values."[4] As Levine elaborates in a footnote, it was an orthogenetic pattern of development, as distinguished from an heterogenetic one.[5]

The town served as Ethiopia's capital until Tewodros II moved the Imperial capital to Magadala upon being crowned Emperor in 1855; the city was plundered and burnt in 1864, then devastated again in December, 1866.[6] Abdallahi ibn Muhammad sacked Gondar when he invaded Ethiopia June 1887. Gondar was ravaged again in 23 January in the next year, when the Sudanese invaders set fire to almost every one of the city's churches.[7]

An overview of the medieval city buildings.

After the conquest of Ethiopia by the Kingdom of Italy in 1936, Gondar was further developed under Italian occupation.[8] During the Second World War, Italian forces made their last stand in Gondar in November 1941, after Addis Ababa fell to British forces six months before. The area of Gondar was one of the main centers of activity of Italian guerrilla against the British forces until summer 1943.[9]

During the Ethiopian Civil War, the forces of the Ethiopian Democratic Union gained control of large parts of Begemder, and during parts of 1977 operated within a few miles of Gondar, and appeared to be at the point of capturing the city.[10] As part of Operation Tewodros near the end of the Civil War, Gondar was captured by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front in March 1991.[11]

Points of interest

Gondar traditionally was divided into several neighborhoods or quarters: Addis Alem, where the Moslem inhabitants dwelled (as mentioned above); Kayla Meda, where the adherents of Beta Israel lived; Abun Bet, centered on the residence of the Abuna, or nominal head of the Ethiopian Church; and Qagn Bet, home to the nobility.[12] Gondar is also a noted center of ecclesiastical learning of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and known for having 44 churches, for many years more than any other settlement in Ethiopia. Gondar and its surrounding countryside constitute the homeland of most Ethiopian Jews.

Crowds gather at the Fasilides' Bath in Gondar to celebrate Timkat - the Epiphany for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

The modern city of Gondar is popular as a tourist attraction for its many picturesque ruins in the Royal Enclosure, from which the Emperors once reigned. The most famous buildings in the city lie in the Royal Enclosure, which include Fasilides castle, Iyasu's Palace, Dawit's Hall, a banqueting hall, stables, Mentewab's Castle, a chancellery, library and three churches. Near the city lie Fasiladas' Bath, home to an annual ceremony where it is blessed and then opened for bathing; the Qusquam complex, built by Empress Mentewab; the eighteenth century Ras Mikael Sehul's Palace and the Debre Berhan Selassie Church.

Downtown Gondar shows the influence of the Italian occupation of the late 1930s. The main piazza features shops, a cinema, and other public buildings in a simplified Italian Moderne style still distinctively of the period despite later changes and, frequently, neglect. Villas and flats in the nearby quarter that once housed occupation officials and colonists are also of interest.

The town is also home to an airport (ICAO code HAGN, IATA GDQ), and Gondar University which includes Ethiopia's main faculty of medicine. Intercity bus service is provided by the Selam Bus Line Share Company.


Based on figures from the Central Statistical Agency in 2005, Gondar has an estimated total population of 194,773 of whom 97,625 are men and 97,148 are women. The woreda has an estimated area of 40.27 square kilometers, which gives Gondar a density of 4,836.70 people per square kilometer.[13] The 1994 census reported this city had a total population of 112,249 of whom 51,366 were males and 60,883 were females.

The 1994 national census reported a total population for Gondar of 112,249 in 21,695 households, of whom 51,366 were men and 60,883 women. The three largest ethnic groups reported in Gondar Zuria were the Amhara (88.91%), the Tigrayan (6.74%), and the Qemant (2.37%); all other ethnic groups made up 1.98% of the population. Amharic was spoken as a first language by 94.57%, and 4.67% spoke Tigrinya; the remaining 0.76% spoke all other primary languages reported. 83.31% adhered to Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, and 15.83% of the population said they were Muslim.[14] There is now also a sizable number of Ethiopian Jews, some of whom live in temporary camps, hoping to emigrate to Israel.

Sister city

As designated by Sister Cities International, Gondar is a sister city with


  1. ^ Richard K.P. Pankhurst, History of Ethiopian Towns: From the Middle Ages to the Early Nineteenth Century (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1982), vol. 1 p. 117.
  2. ^ Solomon Getamun, History of the City of Gondar (Africa World Press, 2005), p. 16
  3. ^ Getamun, City of Gondar, p. 5
  4. ^ Donald N. Levine, Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopia Culture (Chicago: University Press, 1972), p. 42
  5. ^ Levine, Wax and Gold, p. 42 n. 42
  6. ^ Sven Rubenson, King of Kings: Tewodros of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa: Haile Selassie I University, 1966), pp.71f
  7. ^ "Local History in Ethiopia" (pdf) The Nordic Africa Institute website (accessed 9 May 2008)
  8. ^ Getamun, City of Gondar, pp. 28-37
  9. ^ Getamun, City of Gondar, pp. 55-60
  10. ^ Marina and David Ottaway, Ethiopia: Empire in Revolution (New York: Africana, 1978), p. 171
  11. ^ Paul B. Henze, Layers of Time: A History of Ethiopia (New York: Palgrave, 2000), p. 322
  12. ^ Getamun describes the various quarters in his monograph City of Gondar, pp. 16ff
  13. ^ CSA 2005 National Statistics, Table B.4
  14. ^ 1994 Population and Housing Census of Ethiopia: Results for Amhara Region, Vol. 1, part 1, Tables 2.1, 2.7, 2.10, 2.13, 2.17, Annex II.1 (accessed 9 April 2009)

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Gondar (also spelled Gonder) is a city in Ethiopia.

Gondar's 17th Century Royal Castle
Gondar's 17th Century Royal Castle

Get in

By air

There is a mid-sized airport in Gondar. Ethiopian airlines has daily flights to the city - usually leaving Addis around 0700. Flights are also available to/from Axum, Lalibela, and Bahir Dar. Ethiopian Airlines flights are frequently cancelled or rescheduled at short notice, so allow plenty of time if travelling for an international connection.

  • There is a bus sevice to/from Addis Ababa, a trip that takes two days. Minibuses are available that make the trip in one day. These are more expensive and are usually booked through your hotel.
  • Several buses a day run to/from Bahir Dar. Minibuses also run on this route.
  • To get to Axum, take the dawn bus to Shire and change there. You can usually get through in a day. To get from Axum, you must take an afternoon bus to Shire, spend the night there, and take the dawn bus to Gondar. The road between Gondar and Shire is one of the most spectacular in Ethiopia.
  • It also takes two days to get to/from Lalibela by bus. Coming from Lalibela, you take one of the dawn buses to Gashena and change there to the Bahir Dar bus going west. You can either get off the bus at Nefas Mewcha and take the dawn bus to Gondar the next day, or you can ride it all the way to Bahir Dar and head north to Gondar the next morning. To travel to Lalibela, the bus to Gashena from Gondar usually stops for the night in Nefas Mewcha. There are two afternoon buses from Gashena to Lalibela.
  • There are two buses a day to/from Debark for people heading to the Simien Mountains. These leave somewhere around 6am and 9am in both directions.
  • The blue and white minibuses run through the city effeciently. There are also some horse drawn taxis called garis. Both are inexpensive.
  • You also can contract a small blue colored taxi for a day or several days during your visit.
Debre Bihran Selassie: 17th-18th Century wall paintings
Debre Bihran Selassie: 17th-18th Century wall paintings

Gondar Castle, dubbed the Ethiopian Camelot, is not a single castle, but instead is the name given to the entire complex of castles and palaces in the area. Once you pay 50 Birr, which includes a guide, you can explore all of the buildings that make up the castle.

  • Fasilides Castle. Built in 1640 as the home of King Fasilides.  edit
  • Iyasu Palace. This was the home of Iyasu I, the son of Yohannes I. An earthquake and bombings by the British destroyed its once ornate and lavish interior, but the structure itself remains mostly intact and is the largest in the area.  edit
  • Mentwabs Palace (Kusquwam).  edit
  • Fasilides Bath. Separate from the castle, it once served as the bath for King Fasilides. Today it is used as a Baptismal during Tikmat.  edit
  • Debre Birhan Selassie Church. A short way out of town, it seems more like a fortress than a church at first glance. This is because the local churches were once vulnerable to attacks by the Sudanese. There are twelve towers guarding this church, each representing one of the twelve apostles. The church itself was built at the end of the 17th century. it is worth a visit to see its amazing ceiling with intricately painted angels. There are also other religious images on the walls. Churches like this were once quite common in the area however, this is the only church to survive the Sudanese attacks, making it even more of a treasure. 25 Birr but a student reduction is possible..  edit
  • Roman Hotel, not too expensive and excellent value, try their tibbs wate. They serve meat even during lent.


A number of options are available. Prices start at 20 Birr for very basic rooms.

  • Meat house is a bar, brothel, butcher, restaurant and hotel with a charming atmosphere for only 20 Birr a night.
  • Roman Hotel, from Birr 60 (single self-contained), no water, excellent food, meat during lent
  • Circle Hotel, birr 92, right in the centre of the town, check your room carefully for working bathroom fixtures and cleanliness before agreeing to take it.

Get out

The walled city of Fasil Ghebbi near Gondar is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Simien Mountains

Main Article: Simien National Park

Many travellers go to Gondar to visit the Simien Mountains, about a 3 hour bus ride north of the city. Treks in the mountains can be arranged in Gondar, and you will be approached by many touts offering a wide variety of treks. The advantage of using their services is they may be able to put you in a group of other travellers, which will cut costs, and they can arrange for private transportation to and from the park. They can also arrange to drive you to a campsite and pick you up from another, which is useful if you are short of time.

It is also straightforward to arrange everything yourself, and definitely cheaper if you aren't splitting the costs with anyone. Debark is the staging point for all treks in the Simien Mountains and can be reached by bus from Gondar. On arrival in Debark, go to the park office in the south end of town (which you will pass on your way in). They will arrange for permits and the mandatory scout, and can find an official guide, cook, mules, and a muleman if desired. They also have gear for rent, although it is low quality stuff.

Unfortunately, a lot of people will hassle you in Debark. If you are planning to hire a guide, make that one of your first tasks when you arrive since your guide will get rid of unwanted people following you around and can help you sort out any last minute details or concerns. Do not hire an unofficial guide off the street -- travellers frequently complain about their experience with unofficial guides!

There is food suitable for trekking available in Debark, but it is cheaper to buy it in advance in Gondar where there is a much better selection. The scout, guide, and muleman will likely expect you to feed them, so bring along extra.

The best hotel in Debark is the Simien Park Hotel, south of the bus station. There are a few other decent places nearby if the Simien Park Hotel is full.

There is a road running from Debark into the park and several trucks run down it each day, but tourists are prohibited from using them. As a tourist, the only way into the park is to hire a 4WD or walk. Although shorter treks are possible, a 5-day trek from Debark to Sankabar Camp to Geech Camp to Chenek Camp and back to Debark via Sankabar (skipping Geech) is about as short as you can get without missing some of the main sights. You need 9 days to trek to Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia, and back without transport.

Well organised, if expensive, trips to the Simien Mountains can be arranged in Gondar through Seyoum at Explore Abbysinia Travel. His office is underneath the Circle Hotel, facing away from the main road. He can also organise very good value guided tours of Gondar, which is worth doing as a guide is effective at warding off unofficial guides and other hassles.

Daytrips to the Simien Mountains from Gondar can also be arranged, but you won't have time to do much other than step out of your 4WD for a few minutes to snap some pictures.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GONDAR, properly Guendar, a town of Abyssinia, formerly the capital of the Amharic kingdom, situated on a basaltic ridge some 7500 ft. above the sea, about 21 m. N.E. of Lake Tsana, a splendid view of which is obtained from the castle. Two streams, the Angreb on the east side and the Gaha or Kaha on the west, flow from the ridge, and meeting below the town, pass onwards to the lake. In the early years of the 20th century the town was much decayed, numerous ruins of castles, palaces and churches indicating its former importance. It was never a compact city, being divided into districts separated from each other by open spaces. The chief quarters were those of the Abun-Bed or bishop, the Etchege-Bed or chief of the monks, the Debra Berhan or Church of the Light, and the Gemp or castle. There was also a quarter for the Mahommedans. Gondar was a small village when at the beginning of the 16th century it was chosen by the Negus Sysenius (Seged I.) as the capital of his kingdom. His son Fasilidas, or A'lem-Seged (1633-1667), was the builder of the castle which bears his name. Later emperors built other castles and palaces, the latest in date being that of the Negus Yesu II. This was erected about 1736, at which time Gondar appears to have been at the height of its prosperity. Thereafter it suffered greatly from the civil wars which raged in Abyssinia, and was more than once sacked. In 1868 it was much injured by the emperor Theodore, who did not spare either the castle or the churches. After the defeat of the Abyssinians at Debra Sin in August 1887 Gondar was looted and fired by the dervishes under Abu Anga. Although they held the town but a short time they inflicted very great damage, destroying many churches, further damaging the castles and carrying off much treasure. The population, estimated by James Bruce in 1770 at 10,000 families, had dwindled in 1905 to about 7000. Since the pacification of the Sudan by the British (1886-1889) there has been some revival of trade between Gondar and the regions of the Blue Nile. Among the inhabitants are numbers of Mahommedans, and there is a settlement of Falashas. Cotton, cloth, gold and silver ornaments, copper wares, fancy articles in bone and ivory, excellent saddles and shoes are among the products of the local industry.

Unlike any other buildings in Abyssinia, the castles and palaces of Gondar resemble, with some modifications, the medieval fortresses of Europe, the style of architecture being the result of the presence in the country of numbers of Portuguese. The Portuguese were expelled by Fasilidas, but his castle was built, by Indian workmen, under the superintendence of Abyssinians who had learned something of architecture from the Portuguese adventurers, helped possibly by Portuguese still in the country. The castle has two storeys, is 90 ft. by 84 ft., has a square tower and circular domed towers at the corners. The most extensive ruins are a group of royal buildings enclosed in a wall. These ruins include the palace of Yesu II., which has several fine chambers. Christian Levantines were employed in its construction and it was decorated in part with Venetian mirrors, &c. In the same enclosure is a small castle attributed to Yesu I. The exterior walls of the castles and palaces named are little damaged and give to Gondar a unique character among African towns. Of the forty-four churches, all in the circular Abyssinian style, which are said to have formerly existed in Gondar or its immediate neighbourhood, Major Powell-Cotton found only one intact in woo. This church contained some well-executed native paintings of St George and the Dragon, The Last Supper, &c. Among the religious observances of the Christians of Gondar is that of bathing in large crowds in the Gaha on the Feast of the Baptist, and again, though in more orderly fashion, on Christmas day.

See E. Riippell, Reise in Abyssinien (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1838-1840); T. von Heuglin, Reise nach Abessinien (Jena, 1868); G. Lejean, Voyage en Abyssinie (Paris, 1872); Achille Raffray, Afrique orientale; Abyssinie (Paris, 1876); P. H. G. Powell-Cotton, A Sporting Trip through Abyssinia, chaps. 27-30 (London, 1902); and Boll. Soc. Geog. Italiana for 1909. Views of the castle are given by Heuglin, Raffray and Powell-Cotton.

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