Gondar is an old imperial Ethiopian capital which is famed to have gained that enviable position times far back due to many legends.
Flanked by twin mountain streams, at an altitude of more than 2,300 meters, Gondar still commands spectacular views over farmlands to the gleaming waters of Lake Tana, thirty-five kilometers to the south. It is the same Lake Tana, the largest in Ethiopia, which tradition credits for Gondar’s becoming capital.
Legend states that a buffalo led Emperor Fasilides, one in the lineage of the Solomonic dynasty (that came from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba), to a pool beside the Angereb, where an “old and venerable hermit” told the Emperor that his new capital would be at that pool.
Before Fasilides, Ethiopian emperors did not have a capital, but instead wandered from place to place where they pitched camp. Fasilides, had the pool filled and built his castle at the same location.
About the same time in 1635 when the emperor founded Gondar, it was thought that a town beginning with a letter G would be chosen to be capital, hence the proliferation of such towns like Gondar.
Other sources claim that the emperor chose Gondar because the area is free from malaria, good for defensive purpose and good climatic conditions.
The city, retains an atmosphere of antique charm mingled with an aura of mystery and violence. An extensive compound, near its center contains the hulking ruins of a group of imposing castles.
The battlements and towers evoke images of chivalrous knights on horseback and of ceremonies laden with pageantry and honor. Gondar is famous for these medieval castles and the design and decoration of its churches, in particular, Debra Berhan Selassie which represents a masterpiece of the Gondarene School of art.
The church whose name translates to ‘Trinity at the mount of light’ is unique in both mural and ceiling paintings. It is the only church in Ethiopia to have painting on the ceiling with faces of angles in all directions.
Another impressive attraction is the Bath of King Fasilides, the emperors bathing pool, 50 m X 30 m and 2.5 m deep, in which a two story structure stands in the middle.
Gondar is no longer the capital of Ethiopia though it lasted two centuries as a capital, cultural and political centre. Today it prides in its Portuguese influenced architecture and historical interest. Most of its historic buildings and ruins, are situated in the heart of the city, in the Royal Enclosure.
It contains five castles, three churches as well as several other sights. There are also numerous other historic and archaeological sites situated close to Gondar.
The Downtown of Gondar, was build during the Italian occupation in the 1930s and represents Italian style.
Gondar remained the capital of Ethiopia until 1855 and the city was a vigorous center of religious learning and art and has left its relics, as an eerie and absorbing reminder of its artistic and often violent past and is often referred to as the ‘Camelot of Africa.’
The town, located 500 kilometers north of Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa nestles at the high altitude in the foothills of the Simien mountains.