One of many World Heritage sites in Ethiopia, Gonder’s historical allure is obvious to all its visitors.
Once they witness the towering castle walls, rich banquet halls, and lush gardens constructed during its time as the capital to Emperor Fasiladas, travellers are quick to understand why Gonder has become known as the “Camelot of Africa”.
Especially enchanting is the Festival of Timkat, which makes January a great time to visit.
history of gonder
Like many other historical sites in Ethiopia, Gonder is located at the crossroads of important ancient trade routes. It was made the capital of Emperor Fasiladas’ kingdom in the 17th century. The walls and chambers of the vast palaces and nobles’ abodes give ample evidence to the city’s historical significance.
While the city thrived for over a century, it struggled steadily after a period of rampant pillaging at the hands of future emperors and Sudanese invaders. In the 20th century, during the second world war, Gonder became an important site for the Italian front. Gonder is the site of Italy’s last stand in 1941. The evidence of the Italian occupation is still noticeable in the city’s piazza.
Debre Berhan Selassie Church
Considered one of the top sites to visit in Gonder, this 18th century church is valued for its charming stone walls, multiply-tiered thatch roof, and magnificent frescos. Rows of angels and lovingly-rendered religious paintings add to the cultural significance and beauty of this place of worship. The priests of the church host tourists during the day, but remember that flash photography is prohibited as it will damage the paintings.
Photos of Gonder
Best times to visit:
During Timkat Festival (18–20 January)
WHY TRAVELLERS LOVE IT:
'The Camelot of Africa'
- World Heritage Sites
- Debre Berhan Selassie (Church)
- Empress Mentewab’s Kuskuam Complex (Palace)
- Royal Enclosure (Castle)
- Fasiladas' Bath (Historic Site)
- Timkat (Relgious Event)
Empress Mentewab’s Kuskuam Complex
The royal quarters and associated buildings of the Empress Mentewab were built in 1730. These monuments are the subject of interesting historical gossip, which locals and guides are happy to share. The palace is rivaled in its grandeur only by Royal Enclosure, with staterooms, elegant foyers, and a barracks.
Though some of the buildings remain nearly untouched by the years, the palace still shows damage inflicted by the British and the Italians during the second world war. The fine church that once existed here was razed during the Sudanese invasion, but the museum remains in one of its oblong-shaped towers is a must-see. In addition to historical artifacts, the museum contains the remains of the Empress, her son Emperor Iyasu II and her grandson Emperor Iyo’as in an impressive coffin.
The Royal Enclosure (a World Heritage site within a World Heritage Site) is representative of the wealth and complexity of Gonder’s historical golden age. The entire compound is 70,000 square meters and contains numerous castles, palaces, and support buildings. Over the years, efforts have been made restore them to their former glory, held at the peak of Gonder’s history.
The most notable buildings in the old fortress-city are Fasiladas’ palace, the palace of Iyasu I, the stables, the banqueting hall, the library and multiple churches. The outer curtain wall also has 12 gates of varying historical importance.
Rumored to be the holiday home of an early Emperor, Fasilidas’ Bath is a rectangular pool, complemented by stone walls (now crumbling) and charming views. Though it was used by nobility, experts believe it was designed with religious festivals in mind. As such, the historic site is host to the Timkat festival every January, when it is filled with water and blessed.