Gondar: The Camelot of Africa, Epiphany /Timket / Site

By  Sileshi Girma MBA,MSc,PGD

       Engdu Gebrewold /Asst.Prof

      Ashenafi Tafesse  /Asst.Prof


Gondar, the ancient historical city of Ethiopia is located at 731km from the nation’s capital Addis Ababa, 174km from Bahir Dar, the Amhara region’s capital. Gondar previously served as the capital of both the Ethiopian Empire and the subsequent Begemder Province.

Gondar has become the permanent capital of Ethiopia in 1636 during Emperor Fasilades and ended the moving empire rules and mobile royal camps that existed for long after the end of the Zaguwe dynasty. In its day, the city was an important administrative, commercial, religious, and cultural center. It was famous for its sophisticated aristocratic life, its church scholarship, and its extensive trade.

During the Gonderian period, different emperors had built different buildings at the seven-hectare enclosure with 12 gates. This enclosure is termed as the Royal Enclosure or Fasil Ghebbi. Consequently, Gondar has become the city with a large number of different palaces and 3 churches and support buildings.  As a result, it is referred to as “the African Camelot”. Camelot is the name given to the entire complex of castles and palaces in the same area. The Royal Enclosure had served as the residence of Ethiopia’s government from the seventeenth to the first half of the nineteenth century. 

The castles in the royal compound, Fasilides’ Bath and the Qusquam Enclosure with Mentewab’s Palace and St. Mary Church, the Debre Berhan Selassie Church, Saint Yohannes church; the Sosinios palace, also known as Maryam Ghemb, the Gorgora Church and the Palace of Guzara are now are registered as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

During the occupation by the Italians from 1936 – 1943, the Italians used the Royal Enclosure, Fasil Ghebbi, as their headquarters, while developing some parts of the city for officials and colonists, which can still be recognized by the Italian design.

After decline of the Gonderian period in the 19th century, the city continued to be a commercial and transport hub for northwest Ethiopia. Gondar is still also a centre of ecclesiastical learning for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Gondar is growing rapidly due to fast urbanization, like all other cities in Ethiopia, and has now become one of the metropolitan cities in Ethiopia.

Tourism has become the back bone of the economy in the city. The number of arrivals and receipt is showing increment in the last 15 years. Last year alone the city had received hundreds of thousands of domestic and above 10,000 foreign visitors.  

Besides the beautiful palaces, Ethiopian Epiphany, locally called Timket celebration is adding value for the historic and cultural significance of the city. Timket is Ethiopia’s most colourful and exciting religious festival, while Gondar is the best place to be.

During the celebration (Jan 20-22), attended by hundreds of thousands, the city of Gondar has an authentic spiritual context at the Timket place and churches.  Indeed the city at large also has a festival environment; peoples dress in cultural costumes, colourful church umbrellas, flags and white robes lined the streets of Gondar. Though, tourism in Gondar is dominated by international visitors, Timket is one of the moments domestic tourists prefer to visit.

Doro wat is one such stew, made from chicken and sometimes hard-boiled eggs is the most popular traditional food in Ethiopia, often eaten as part of a group who share a communal bowl and basket of Injera. Doro wat is perhaps the best known food from Ethiopia and is often referred to as that country’s national dish. Historically, Gondar is referred as the source of this spicy dish and still it is one of the places in Ethiopia one can find the best Doro Wat. In addition to Doro Wat, Gondar is also well known for the production of alcoholic beverages like Tej (Honey wine) and Tella.

Though Gondar has rich history and culture, the existence of other popular features nearby give the city another competitive advantage. The Simien Mountains national park, the only natural world heritage site of the country, is only 100 km away from the city. Being located along the historic route, Gondar holds places, sites, monuments, people, and culture which exhibit the past history, society, religion, and political environment of the country.

Ethiopian church paintings are the leading figures in the Ethiopian art history. Among this artistic traditions, the Gondarian painting style represent the peak of church painting tradition in Ethiopia with its own unique features, themes and representation.

The city of Gondar is a popular tourist destination for its many picturesque ruins of castles, palaces, and other century old buildings. The city’s most famous buildings are in the Fasil Ghebbi, including Fasilides’ Castle, Iyasu’s Palace, Dawit’s Hall, Empress Mentewab’s Castle, a chancellery, library and three churches. Other attractions include Fasilides’ Bath, the Qusquam complex, Ras Mikael Sehul’s Palace, and the DebreBerhan Selassie Church.

Both the private and public sector is striving in the development of the required tourism infrastructure including accommodation, transport, catering, tourist information services, and conservation of the unique heritages.

The city’s heritages and tourism services has a tremendous contribution serving as a source of employment and foreign exchange. The major services offered by key tourism service providers for visitors consists; visitor information, entry access to the heritages, guided tours, transport, lodging, meal, entertainment and related touristic services.

In order to offer the tourist services, local investors have got the opportunity to have established tourist standard hotels, lodges, cultural restaurants, traditional night clubs, and souvenir & gift shops. Besides, in Gondar city there are community association and private businesses launched and currently offering both transportation (car rent) and guiding services for visitors. On top of this, there are few local travel agencies who are experts in organizing city tours, selling trekking packages to the spectacular Semien Mountains and booking of local flights.

Also, tourism in the city is promoting micro and small-scale enterprises such as handicraft centers and coffee houses.  Hence, the benefits of tourism in Gondar is rising and creating jobs for the community, profits for local tourism businesses and tax for the government. Thus, it is important to appreciate tourism in the city as a tool to strengthen the growth of local, regional as well as national employment and sustainable economic development efforts.

There have been remarkable interventions efforts from the University of Gondar (UoG) in building the capacity of tourism stakeholders through formal education, trainings, research and consultations. Yet, regular skill-based trainings are required for the tourism and hospitality industry employees to play pivotal roles in terms of conservation of heritages, delivery of quality tourism services and ensure customer satisfaction.

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