Gondar was founded in 1636 by Ethiopian emperor Fasiladas and became the country’s first permanent capital. It served as the capital city until Tewodros’s time, mid-nineteenth century. The city’s unique Imperial compound contains a number of Castles built between 1632 and 1855 by various Emperors who reigned during this period. These dramatic Castles, unlike any other in Africa, display richness in architecture that reveals the Axumite traditions as well as the influence of Arabia.
The Camelot of Africa
The most famous buildings in the city lie in the 17 the century Royal Enclosure, including 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.
Until the 16th century, the 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. Being close to supplies of firewood was one of the main reasons for moving place to place.
Beginning with Emperor Minas in 1559, the rulers of Ethiopia began spend 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.
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. Gondar is also a noted center of ecclesiastical learning in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo 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.