BEST TIME TO VISIT:
WHY TRAVELLERS LOVE IT:
Centuries-old defensive wall
368 alleyways squeezed into just 1 square km
- World Heritage Site
- Jugal (Old Town)
- Hyena Feeding (Wildlife Encounter)
- Tomb of Sheikh Abadir (Islamic Tomb)
Old Town (jugal)
So much of the evidence of Harar’s history, wealth, and culture are contained within the ‘Old Town’ (Jugal). The tall, thick walls that surround the Old Town were built to keep out migrants during the 16th century. In fact, very little was built outside the walls until the 1900s. As such, the winding, narrow alleyways of the Old Town have an abundance of interesting historic buildings, dozens of mosques, tombs, and shrines.
To enter the Old Town, you must cross the threshold of one of six ancient gates. All are fascinating sites to visit, each with its own historical importance and unique features. For example, only one of the gates is large enough to allow for cars. This gage was added in 1889 by the first Duke of Harar, Ras Makonnen. But the north gate, called the Fallana Gate, is the busiest. It is worth paying each of the unique gates a visit during your exploration of the city.
You will also notice the city is filled with traditional Adare houses. Adare houses are rectangular, 2-storey homes, white-washed and made of clay. They were constructed to maintain comfortable temperatures in particularly hot seasons. The families that live in these homes also often share east-facing courtyards, which make for pleasant and beautiful reprieves in the old city.
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Considered by many travellers to be the most interesting city in Ethiopia, exploring Harar can feel like a glimpse into antiquity. As one of many of Ethiopia’s World Heritage sites, it features unique attractions and experiences for novice and seasoned travellers alike. The old-quarter has 368 alleyways to explore, all of which are tightly packed into just one square kilometer. Visiting the numerous mosques and busy markets in the enclosure of ancient walls makes Harar a memorable destination.
History of harar
While Harar’s history is shrouded in mystery, some evidence suggests that it may have been founded by immigrants from Arabia in the 10th century. These immigrants included Sheikh Abadir, whose tomb located in Harar is still a pilgrimage site centuries later.
However, there is also evidence to suggest, that there was a permanent settlement at this ancient commercial crossroads, now known as Harar, as early as the 7th century. Over the centuries, the settlement grew into a wealthy trade city. Trade from Africa, India, the Middle East and, eventually Europe, flowed through the crossroads allowing arts and culture to flourish.
By the 18th century, Harar became a center of Islamic scholarship and devotion. The locals considered it the 4th most important city to Islam behind only Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem.
At the time, the holy city was forbidden to non-muslims. That however, did not stop British explorer Richard Burton. In 1854, he arrived in Harar in disguise to explore the city. He is still considered to be the first outside to ever spend significant time in the city. Arthur Rimbaud, the famous poet, was only the 3rd European to ever have entered the city, and ended up working and living many years in Harar.
TOMB OF SHEIKH ABADIR
The resting place of Sheikh Abadir, said to be Harar’s founder, is a place of far-reaching importance. Muslim worshippers still visit the burial place to pray and seek guidance, as well as bring offerings to show their devotion. While the site is usually off-limits to non-Muslims, the Thursday night visitations, where pilgrims and visitors play music and read the Koran, are more festive and welcoming.
Harar has always had a relationship with it Africa’s second-largest predator, the Hyena. Traditionally, the occupants of Harar would feed the hyenas to discourage them from preying on their livestock. Eventually, the practice became a tradition and is now celebrated in the annual Ashura festival.
For a small fee, visitors can accompany a local guide to feed the hyenas. And if they are so inclined, tourists are invited to safely feed the hyenas themselves. Witnessing a pack of large predators come out of the night to feed is a rare and exciting experience.