Fortified City of Fasil Ghebbi (World Heritage)

Fortified City of Fasil Ghebbi (World Heritage)

The former residence of the Ethiopian emperors in the 16th / 17th centuries. Century is an important testimony of Ethiopian history with its palaces, churches and monasteries. The architectural style of the building combines Arab-African architecture with baroque elements.

Fortified city of Fasil Ghebbi: facts

Official title: Fasil Ghebbi in the Gondar region
Cultural monument: Residence city Fasil Ghebbi of the Ethiopian Emperor Fasilidas and his successors with palaces, churches, monasteries, whose architectural style combines Arab-African architecture and the Baroque of the Jesuits
Continent: Africa
Country: Ethiopia, Gondar
Location: Gonder, northwest from Addis Ababa
Appointment: 1979
Meaning: important architectural evidence of the former Ethiopian royal seat of the 17th and 18th centuries, surrounded by a 900 m long wall.

Fortress City Fasil Ghebbi: History

1632-67 raised to the capital of Ethiopia under Emperor Fasilidas
1682-1706 under Emperor Iyasu I. construction of a castle named after him
1716-21 under Emperor Dawit III. Construction of the »House of Songs« Debbal Gemp in the middle of the 19th century. Relocation of the imperial residence to Debre Tabor
1881 Attack by Madhist rebels
1941 Damage to historic buildings from British air raids

The castles of the “Lions of Judah”

For centuries, the Ethiopian emperors traveled and marched with a huge entourage from province to province, ruling the impassable, confusing country from their widely scattered palatinate castles. The centralized power of the city-state of Aksum, which had secured northern Ethiopia, had been forgotten for more than 1000 years. Under the legendary rulers of Aksum, Ethiopia experienced a heyday in the first five centuries of our era. The later Ethiopian emperors could only dream of their abundance of power. It was not until a millennium later that Emperor Fasilidas succeeded in resuming this tradition and founding a new capital for his empire with Gonder.

Fasilidas’ reign falls into a historically extremely important period for Ethiopia. According to smber, Ethiopia had to defend its church independence, which had existed since the 4th century, against the influence of the Jesuit missionaries. With a remarkable effort – by actively supporting the uprising of the Coptic Ethiopians against the Jesuit missionaries – Fasilidas succeeded in 1632 in persuading his father to abdicate; so the influence of the missionaries could be warded off. As the new emperor, Fasilidas continued the strong Solomonic tradition. Ethiopia, so it was the dream of the new “Negus”, should develop on its own into a modern, centrally administered, independent state. For this the emperor needed a new capital: Gondar.

Gonder should not only be the center of a dynamic departure, but also a visible symbol for the powerful continuity of Ethiopian rule. For example, Fasilidas had a magnificent palace built, with which the most daring architectural expression of the indomitable Ethiopian will to rule in 1000 years was manifested in Gonder. Around 70,000 square meters, surrounded by high fortress walls, comprised the palace area in which Fasilidas and his successors realized their architectural plans in the 17th and 18th centuries. A 900 meter long wall surrounded an imposing complex of palace and secular buildings, monasteries, churches and private apartments. They were supposed to reflect the most diverse influences of Arab, Indian, but also baroque European architecture. The founder, Fasilidas, deliberately tied in with the traditional Aksumite architecture. He chose the characteristic square floor plan as in the palace of the Queen of Sheba and flanked the corners with four domed corner towers. New in Fasilidas’ bold designs was the two-storey, square extension over the southwest flank: From the flat, crenellated roof of the palace tower, the view extended to Lake Tana, more than 60 kilometers away. Bricked from roughly hewn stones and grouted with cement-hard mortar, the building was defiant and defensive, but at the same time did not lack either the elegance or the courtly charm of an imperial palace. High arched windows guaranteed sufficient incidence of light from the glistening Ethiopian sun, wooden balcony balustrades created a floating connection between the tropical garden and the imperial palace. Furniture adorned with gold, valuable carpets, sumptuous parties – Fasilidas celebrated his court in the spirit of a powerful, self-confident ruler. Lion cages, set up in the middle of the castle district, symbolized Solomon’s claim to power as the »Lion of Judah«. Not far from the palace district, around two kilometers from the city, Fasilidas had a pleasure palace built in a small park. Surrounded by low walls, a three-storey bathing castle stands on thick arched columns in the middle of a 50 by 30 meter pool, which is connected to the surrounding park by a bridge.

Fasilidas’ successors built on this architectural self-portrayal. They had more castles built in the walled palace area, creating a breathtaking complex of castles and palaces. However, the last castle in Gonder was built by a rebel towards the end of the 18th century: Ras Michael wanted to erect a monument to his uprising against the emperor and chose the highest point in the palace district for his castle. After him the castles of Gonder fell into disrepair; During the Second World War, the palaces suffered severe damage from air raids. But to this day, the once so magnificent buildings breathe the fascination of history.

Fortified City of Fasil Ghebbi (World Heritage)

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