Tuesday, February 14, 2012


(1) country side on the way to Gondar

This is not the forum to discuss the history of Ethiopia in great detail. Firstly, because others can do that much better than I, and have done so, too, and secondly, because the history is pretty complex, balancing between fact and Ethiopian legend. For instance, it is hard to believe that the last emperor, Haile Selassie, was a direct descendant from the offspring of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, who she visited 3000 years ago – given the often violent regime changes, that bloodline must have been broken not once, but many times, yet Ethiopian history insists on this unlikely dynasty.
Yet, Gondar has been an important part in this history, having been the capital for some 250 years.
Ethiopian rulers have moved their capitals frequently. In the early 17th Century the Abyssinian empire suffered after long and exhaustive clashes with the Somali Muslim leader Ahmed Gragn, followed by an unsuccessful attempt to switch from Ethiopian Orthodox church to Catholicism, edged on by Portuguese court advisers. Emperor Fasilidas resurrected the empire, and established Gondar as the new capital in 1635, and straight away started building what is now its major tourist site, the Royal Enclosure. Successive emperors have added to this, resulting in a fabulous, walled complex with six palaces and castles, walkways, baths, even lion cages. And a little further outside town is Fasilidas’ weekend house, surrounded by a huge, albeit now empty, pool. Both very nice, and especially the Royal Enclosure is a wonderfully peaceful place to roam around for a couple of hours, and with hardly any other tourists to compete with.
(2, 3, 4, 5) some of the castles in the Royal Enclosure of Gondar

(6) the only colour in this complex is provided by the occasional bird, and a flower so here and there

(7, 8) the bath at Fasilidas' second home

A third complex, Qusquam, is even further out of town, reached through a 1.5 km walking path. We were heading there, walking, when we found ourselves once again the subject of uncomfortable attention of a group of three guys, later joined by two others. Which made us decide to turn around again, and forget about visiting this complex. Pity. But then, the alternative we dreamt up, having a drink at the Dashen brewery, in the so-called Dashen Beer garden, more than made up for the ruins we missed. And was almost as pleasant as watching the sunset over Gondar the afternoon before, from the most upmarket hotel here, situated at high vantage point north of town. Complete with gin & tonic. Of course.

(9) it is not only castles and palaces in Gondor

(10) entrance to the Dashen Beer Garden, not to be misunderstood

(11) a true gin & tonic moment, with view over the town....
(12) waiting for the sunsets, waiting for the vultures

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