Perhaps castles are not the first thing that comes to the traveler’s mind when thinking about Ethiopia, but this African country hides many surprises within its territory and tales of emperors and princesses are among them.
One of such wonders is the city of Gondar. This enclave, also spelled Gonder, was home to Emperor Fasildas castle and the walled city of Fasil Ghebbi, now part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
However, before delving into entrancing Gondar, please be aware that all of those wishing to travel to Ethiopia must obtain a visa for Ethiopia. Thankfully, Ethiopian authorities launched the Ethiopian eVisa to accelerate this process. This travel authorization is quick and easy to get by completing the Ethiopian Online Visa application form.
Many call Gondar ‘the Camelot of Africa’ but unlike Camelot, Gondar is a real city made out of royalty and blood and its history covers hundreds of years starting as early as the 12th century.
Who Founded Gondar?
Gondar was the seat of government for the Solomonic Dynasty (descended from the biblical Solomon and Sheba), throughout the 16th -18th century.
Gondar’s fertile lands and strategic placement are a couple of the reasons why Emperor Fasiladas chose this location as his seat of power in 1636. As legend has it, he was led by a buffalo to a pool by the Angered. Once there, a wise hermit announced to the Emperor he would locate his capital there. And so did Fasilidas. He filled in the pool and built his castle right there.
Emperor Fasiladas went on to build a total of 7 churches and the 5 emperors who succeded him followed suit by building even more churches and palaces, some of which still stand today.
Nevertheless, the most famous of all the Gondar palaces is Fasil Ghebbi, built by Emperor Fasiladas.
Towards the end of the 18th century, Gondar’s influence began to decline and 1769 marks the end of ‘the Gondar Period.’ From that point on, even though emperors continued to sit in Gondar, they barely held any power and local governors strated ruling each Ethiopian region.
Best Activities To Do in Gondar
Gondar sits surrounded by hills and mountains that are populated by endemic flora and animals. The region is home to the Simien Mountains National Park and the tallest peak of Ethiopia, Ras Dejen (or Ras Dashen) at 4,550m.
Things To Do in Gondar
The Ethiopian castle notwisthanding, all of those who visit Gondar will have a hard time running out of interesting activities.
- Take the chance to go on a one or two-hour walking tour in the Simien Mountains. You can then break for lunch and use your afternoon to visit all the old castles and churches in the area. You can guide yourself around or book a tour that will set you back anywhere from $50 to $140 USD per person depending on how big the group is.
- If you want to enjoy some nice views of the surrounding area, you can visit the village of Woleka, an hour’s walk along the main road (about 5 km).
- A trip to the Kidame Gebya Market is also a good idea. Gondar’s weekly market now runs throughout the week with Sunday being its most quiet day and Satuday the busiest. It can be found 500 metres shouthwest of the bus station and you can buy almost anything from clothes to vegetables.
Things To See in Gondar
Some must-see sights no one should miss are:
- Debre Birhan Selassie Church. At the end of the 17th century, a church was built at this location and destroyed. The church that can be seen now dates from the 1880s and is the only one to survive the Sudanese attacks. Twelve towers guard this building, each representing one of the 12 apostles. Do not miss its intricated ceilings of painted angels.
- Fasil Ghebbi or the Royal Enclosure is an incredible museum complex showcasing the last centuries of Ethiopia’s emperors. It contains Fasilides Castle, Empress Mentewab’s castle, Iyasu Palace, Dawit III Hall, a library, a banqueting hall, and 3 churches among several other buildings. Some of them were destroyed by the Sudanese Dervish, the Italians and also British bombs during Ethiopia’s liberation in World War II.
- Fasilides Castle was built in 1640 as the home of King Fasilides. Once there, do not miss Fasilides Bath. It is separated from the castle and, although it once was the bath for King Fasilides, today it is used as a baptism during Timkat festival.
- Gorgora is a beautiful quaint town about 70 km from Gondar. It served as Ethiopia’s capital for a short time and it still has some relics from that era. It is great for birdwatching and canoeing with local fishermen. Great to leave tourists behind since they are few and far between in this village.
Getting to Gondar
Options abound whether you are traveling by air or by road.
There is a mid-sized airport in Gondar and Ethiopian Airlines operates daily flights to the city. You can also fly to and from Lalibela, but travelers should allow plenty of time if they have an international connection as flights are canceled or rescheduled on short notice on a regular basis.
Most hotels offer a free airport transfer service, and taxis and vans are also available.
Gondar is 355km southwest of Axum and fans of scenic routes will appreciate the amazing route through Simien Mountains National Park.
Gondar covers a lot of ground but it is extremely walkable which makes strolling through its tin-roofed stone buildings a true delight.
You can also find inexpensive taxis and minibusses that run through the city, as well as garis, the local horse-drawn taxis.
Best Time of Year to Visit Gondar
If you like to enjoy outdoor activities and are after rainless, clear days with mild temperatures, you are better off visiting Gondar from mid-October to late April. Temperatures around those times are between 65°F and 80°F.
However, if you love hot-weather activities and high temperatures don’t scare you away, you may want to travel to Gondar from mid-February to early May. That time of the year temperatures are between 80°- 90°F.
Those who like to partake in local festivities shoud take the chance to travel to Gondar during Timkat, the Ethiopian Orthodox equivalent to Epiphany. It takes place on January 19 at Fasilides’ Bath and it reenecats the first baptism.
Fans of cooler weather should know the cool season lasts from July to September an it averages temperatures below 71°F.
To start planning your visit to Gondar, check the requirements for the Ethiopia eVisa to make sure you qualify and fill out the Ethiopia electronic visa application form online. It will save you time and hassle and once the flight has been booked you will be on your way to enjoying an African fairy tale.