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Fasil Ghebbi – the ruins of the city-fortress in Gondar

Fasil Ghebbi, a complex located in the city of Gondar in Ethiopia, has served as the residence of the Emperors of Ethiopia over more than two centuries. A spacious palace and temple complex surrounded by a nearly 1-km-long stone wall, was erected by several rulers of Ethiopia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Due to its monumental architecture it has become known as the “Camelot of Africa” and in 1979 was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The unique architecture of the fortress reflects the influence of both Eastern and European cultures on the traditions connected with the Ethiopian style of building, resulting in a complete new style of this era, the so-called “Gondar style”.

History of Fasil Ghebbi

The fortress was founded by a representative of the Solomonic Dynasty – Negus (Emperor) Fasilidas in 1636. Negus Fasilidas was an important figure in the history if his country, because he was the first emperor who founded the permanent Ethiopian capital. Until then, the Ethiopian rulers practiced wandering from one place to another, living a nomadic lifestyle in tents together with their subjects over many centuries. The city-fortress Gondar and Fasil Ghebbi situated within its territory was the Ethiopian capital to nearly 1855. In this period the castle complex has grown to enormous size, because after all, according to tradition, the Ethiopian monarch should not have been lived in a palace of his predecessor, but should build his own residence.

There are many legends about the creation of Fasil Ghebbi. One of them say an archangel prophesied that the Ethiopian capital would be enjoying its heyday at a place with a name that began with the letter "G".

Predecessors of Fasilidas tried to set up the capital in the cities of Guzara and Gorgora, but only in Gondar this prophecy was finally fulfilled. Another legend has it that the city was built in a place pointed out to the Emperor Fasilidas by a buffalo, who led him to the picturesque foothills during a hunt. This is the place where a small settlement called Gondar was located at an altitude of over 2000 metres above the sea level, surrounded by the two mountain streams near the beautiful Lake of Tana. Gondar was destined to become the historical and cultural centre of the country. (more)

What can you see?

The most impressive building of the Fasil Ghebbi complex is a two-story Fasilidas’ castle, which was the first building from all the palaces and has been preserved in very good condition thanks to the strong walls. Many rooms in the castle were designed not only for occupying by the Ethiopian ruler but also for deciding on state affairs. In one of the rooms, called the “House of the Lion, the court sessions took place and in another one the imperial parties were organized.

There was a kind of harem in the palace as well – a room for the Emperor’s concubines, as the Ethiopian rulers didn’t deny themselves such pleasures without paying attention to devotion to the Christian religion. In this room you can see many different recesses, where the beauties stored their ornaments and diverse cosmetic tools, so essential for women of every age.

Near the castle, there is a building of the former Treasury , next to which you may notice an artificial pool. At the present time it is empty, but formerly it was full of huge fish. There are also healing waters just a few steps away, where the water was heated on the basis of a system of medieval, eastern bathhouses – there were clay pipes filled with hot water under the baths. The most famous swimming baths, called “Fasilidas’ Baths, are located a little further away – a few kilometres from the palace. The building of these swimming baths is surrounded by a swimming pool, which even now is filled with water once a year in order to perform the ceremony on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

In the north-western part of the city of Gondar there is the Debre Berhan Selassie Church (Trinity and Mountain of Light) erected during the reign of Iyasu I the Great, which has proven to be more durable than the luxurious palace. Rectangular building, inconspicuous at first sight, enrapture tourists with its internal religious paintings. The historic temple is extremely popular among the resident population, attracting large numbers of pilgrims during the feast.

Opening hours:

every day from 8.30 to 17.30

Text by: Nelya Terehova