Gonder at a glance

Gonder was the third capital city of Ethiopia, as evidenced by the crumbling castle ruins that once housed the emperors, kings, and queens of this land. These ruins are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

In the centre of town lies one of Ethiopia's most famous churches, where the walls are painted with vivid depictions of biblical events, and the roof above covered in the faces of angels. 

Gonder is the gateway town to the Simien Mountains National Park, and is one of the best places to be during the festival of Timkat that takes place every January. 

Debre Berhan Selassie Church in Gonder

Things to do in Gonder

Visit the Royal Enclosure (Fasil Ghebbi)

Encircled by a 900-metre stone wall, the Royal Enclosure (known locally as Fasil Ghebbi), is the most famous attraction in the town.

Gonder was the political epicentre of Ethiopia for hundreds of years, and the castles that remain offer a window into a bygone era, Although many of the stories from this time are forever lost, your guide can talk you through what we do know of the events, the people, and mystery of this fascinating town. 

The castles can be explored in a couple of hours in the morning or afternoon.

Fasil Ghebbi, The Royal Enclosure in Gondar

Stroll through Fasiladas’ Castle

Standing at 32 meters and made of roughly hewn stones, Fasiladas' Castle is the oldest and most impressive structure within the Royal Enclosure. This stone castle displays a unique combination of Portuguese, Axumite and Indian influences.

The main floor was used as dining halls and a formal reception area. The walls are decorated with a symbol similar to the Star of David, which became the emblem of the Ethiopian royal family.

One floor up is Fasiladas’ prayer room. This room has windows in four directions, each overlooking Gonder’s important churches. Religious ceremonies were held on the roof.

Gonder

Gondarine castles at dusk.

Stop off at Iyasu’s Palace

Look for the skeletal remains of the Palace of Iyasu I. Known for his quick and piercing wit, Iyasu I is considered the greatest ruler of the Gonderine period. 

His palace used to be sumptuously decorated with gilded Venetian mirrors and chairs. Gold leaf, ivory and beautiful paintings adorned the walls.

Not much of this grandeur remains today, but as you wander through the ruins, it's fascinating to reflect, and imagine what once surrounded the very ground you're walking upon. 

Fasil Ghebbi, The Royal Enclosure in Gondar

Visit Fasilides' Bath

Fasilides’ Bath (often call Fasil Mewagna by the locals), is one of the more famous historic buildings in Gonder, and one of the few that retains a function today.

The pool, empty for much of the year, sits in front of a small castle-like outpost, and surrounded by thick tree roots that wind around the stone walls around the site.

Fasilides' Bath is the centre for the annual Timkat celebrations in Gondar, when the bath is filled and thousands of pilgrims arrive to take part in the festivities. Timkat is the celebration of the baptism of Jesus Christ - an event mimicked during the celebrations.

Entry to the Fasilides Bath is included in the ticket price of the Royal Enclosure. 

Gonder

Debre Birhan Selassie Church

Known for its beautiful examples of Ethiopian church art, Debre Birhan Selassie was built in the 17th Century by Emperor Eyasu II.

Debre Birhan, Amharic for Mountain of Light, was the Emperor’s nickname.

Built of stone and contained under a two-tiered thatched roof, every centimetre of the wall and roof is covered by paintings which depict biblical scenes, saints, and icons of the Holy Trinity. 

Debre Birhan is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Ethiopia, and has a deep-rooted history. 

Debre Berhan Selassie Church in Gonder

Head into the Simien Mountains

Gonder is the gateway town to the Simien Mountains, as the town contains the nearest airport to the mountains. 

Most visitors will arriving in Gondar via domestic flight, spend a day or two exploring Gonder, before heading up into the Simien Mountains by road. The drive from Gonder to the Simien Mountains is around 2 hours. 

The Simien Mountains is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in Africa, and is dubbed The Roof of Africa.

The mountains are home to the beautiful Limalimo Lodge, one of the country's best accommodations, and is a great place for hiking and trekking. The mountains are famous for the large populations of Gelada Monkeys that live here.  

Gonder

Views from the Simien Mountains.

Discover More of Gonder

Fasil Ghebbi

Fasil Ghebbi, The Royal Enclosure in Gondar

Once the epicentre of Ethiopian politics and power, the crumbled ruins of the Royal Enclosure - also known as ‘Fasil Ghebbi’ - are all that remain of a bygone era. An ancient …

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Debre Birhan Selassie Church

Debre Berhan Selassie Church in Gonder

Don't be fooled by its modest yellow brick exterior, inside awaits a stunning, kaleidoscopic display of creativity in murals, wall paintings, and a ceiling covered with angels. …

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Accommodation in Gonder

Outside dining area at Gondar Hills Resort

Gonder has a good mix of accommodation options, from budget hotels to higher-end properties, with a good mix of mid-range options. Like much of Ethiopian accommodation, there is …

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Things to do in Gonder

Castles in Gonder

In northern Ethiopia, Gonder (also written Gondar), is one of Ethiopia's most interesting historical towns. The old capital city of Ethiopia, Gonder was the home of Ethiopian …

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Gonder FAQs

  • What is the meaning of Gondar?

    Gondar has no English translation, it is simply the name of the city. 

  • What is Gonder known for?

    Gonder is best known for its castle ruins and decorated churches. The castle ruins, known as Fasil Ghebbi, are a series of buildings that were once the home of Ethiopian royalty. 

  • Is Gondar Safe?

    It is completely safe to visit Gonder. The town is a popular route along the historic north circuit of Ethiopia, most first-time visitors of the country will visit Gonder. Safety is not a concern when visiting Gonder, although there can be regional tensions that flare up now and again.   

  • What is the history of Gondar?

    Gonder has a deep history in Ethiopia. It was third capital city of the country from the 1640’s to 1864. The castle complex dates back to Emperor Fasiladas who commissioned their construction, but their development continued throughout successive rulers. 

  • How far is Gondar from Addis Ababa?

    Gonder is 421 kilometres from Addis Ababa (261.5 miles). The easiest way to get to Gonder from Addis Ababa is via domestic flight (approximately 1 hour). 

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