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Some 50 km north of Lake Tana, 748 km north of Addis Ababa and nestling in the foothills of the Simien Mountains, the ancient city of Gondar is undoubtedly one of the most thrilling experiences that Ethiopia has to offer, with its churches, castles and mountain scenery.
Gondar was the capital of Ethiopia from the rise of Fasilades (1632-1635) until the fall of Tewodros (1855-1868), a status that is reflected in the many castles and palaces that grace the city. At first sight, the architecture seems to reflect Moorish-European influence and, indeed, the presence of the Portuguese in the 16th century may have influenced the design of some of the fortresses, but closer inspection reveals a continuity with the Axumite tradition.Read more
The city’s main imperial precinct, known as the Royal Enclosure, covers an area of 7.6 ha and contains five castles, raised walkways and connecting tunnels surrounded by high stone walls. The one- or two-storey palaces have either square or rectangular ground plans, with roof terraces, battlements, square observation towers and round domed towers at the wall angles. The oldest of these is the Castle of Fasilades. Built of stone and previously unused lime mortar in the mid-17th century, it reflects Axumite, Portuguese and Indian influences. The walls downstairs are decorated with a symbol that represents the Star of David, later to become the Royal Ethiopian emblem. The upper storey offers panoramic views and Lake Tana is visible on a clear day. Fasilades’ grandson, Iyasu the Great, who was considered one of Gondar’s great leaders, built his own fantastic ‘Saddle Castle’ – so called for the shape of the help of its main tower - and decorated it with ivory, gold and precious stones. An earthquake in the early 18th century caused damage, a problem compounded by the British bombing of the Italian headquarters based in the Royal Enclosures during the Second World War. The Reception Hall, used for lavish banquets by Emperor Bakaffa who reigned 1721-1730 is well preserved.