Gondar is known as Africa’s Camelot because of its impressive castles. It was the capital of Ethiopia and the residence of its kings and queens. Our tour of Gondar started at a church. However this is not just any church, Debra Birhan Selaisse is an UNESCO world heritage site. According to local legend the vibrant paintings and murals found inside the church are the work of one monk – taking him four years to complete. The murals are extensive: the faces of hundreds of angels line the ceiling, biblical stories are depicted weaving across the walls.
Continuing our tour of the old city we got to King Fasilidas bath. Larger than an Olympic sized swimming pool this bath belonged to the royal family until the 1930s when Emperor Haile Selaisse donated it to the church. Now it is only filled for the Epiphany which occurs on January 19th every year. The water is blessed by the bishop after an all night prayer/celebration. Once the bishop’s cross touches the water it is blessed and becomes holy water. The people jump in and swim or they are splashed with holy water by a deacon.
The first of Gondar’s castles were built by Emperor Fasilidas in 1635 when he decided to make Gondar the capital of his empire. His son and grandson also built castles and the royal enclosure of this medical city grew. The royal enclosure is a huge compound with numerous castles, stables and a lion’s den. Ethiopia was never colonised setting it apart from other African countries. However for a brief period during the second world war the Italians occupied Gondar and set up base within the medieval city.