Regarded to as the fourth holiest city in Islam, the old city of Harar is home to an incredible 99 mosques and shrines, representing the 99 names of Allah known to man. It is believed that Sheikh Abadir Umar ar-Rida, the Arab Muslim cleric patron of the city of Harar, is responsible for the Islamic demographic of this ancient city. It all started in 1216, when the Sheikh travelled to Harar from the Arabian Peninsula, married a Harari woman and constructed the city’s Jamia mosque.
Known for its famous array of markets, ‘Hyena men’ coupled with the ability to feed hyenas, old paintings which reach back in time, artifacts that span all cultures and beautiful women dressed in their colorful traditional clothing, it is really easy to get lost in the never-ending maze of the winding streets of Harar.
Things to do
Visit the Harar Jugol wall
Believed to be built somewhere between the 13th and 16th century, this thick, 5 metres high and 3.5 km long wall was built to keep away the rising migration of the Oromo people.
This fascinating wall once had five gates: Shoa Gate, Buda Gate, Sanga Gate, Erer Gate and Fallana Gate, each providing five pathways into five different quarters of the city.
Still intact, the Jugol wall is a ravishing symbol of the town to the Harari people and is worth a visit.
Feed some Hyenas
Harar is most famous for the its ‘Hyena Man’. Feeding hyenas is actually a thing in this part of town. It all started in the 20th century when the Harari people started feeding the local hyenas to stop them from decimating their livestock. Consequently, these large, grizzled hyenas stopped searching for their own food and started coming into the city to get their red meat from the local hyena man.
A whole century has since passed, but this tradition continues as the hyenas still come out at night to be fed by the local people.
1.5 kms to the East of the Erer Gate and around a few winding corners, you will find ‘the hyena man of Harar’ (as the tourists tend to call him) sitting in the large dusty open space. Though he doesn’t speak English, make a fool of yourself trying to explain why you came, give him a 100-birr tip and he will vanish into a shed and return with a basket full of meat. The scent of the meat will attract hyenas and you’ll be able to feed them.
Don’t make any sudden movements, don’t move away until the hyena does and when you do move, do it slow and steady. A bit frightening – but an amazing, unforgettable experience.
Visit the Sherif Harar City Museum
One of the most decorated museums in the city of Harar, The Sheriff Harar City Museum is a ‘must-see’. Believed to have hosted the honeymoon of Haile Selassie and his wife Menen Asfaw, the Sherif Harar city museum is filled with jewelry, coins, weaponry, textiles and old manuscripts collected from different regional groups like the Amhara, Gurage, Oromo, Somali and Argoba.
This cultural museum was opened in December 2008 and was founded by Mr. Abdullah Ali Sherif (also named after him). Mr. Sherif and his family are also the current curators of the museum.
The Arthur Rimbaud Museum
Right in the heart of this mystic city is the Arthur Rimbaud Museum. Dedicated to the famous French poet Arthur Rimbaud, known for his influence on modern literature, this articulate museum is filled with beautiful photos, all of which tell a different story.
Most of the prints found in the museum were taken by Arthur Rimbaud. The French poet lived here from 1884-1891 and is believed to have a close friendship with the Governor of Harar, Ras Mekonnen Wolde Mikael, during his stay here.
Filled with crazy marketplaces like the spice market, recycling market, Shoa Gate market and the famous Erer Gate, Harar truly justifies its place as one of the region’s major commercial center.
From livestock to electronics, cultural dresses to Herbs and spices, Harar’s marketplaces are jam-packed with whatever you need and are operable whenever required.
Don’t leave without having the famous Harar Coffee
Known for its extensive variety of coffee beans, Harar is truly the home to one of the best coffees Ethiopia has to offer. Every tourist who stops by here has some – so don’t be the odd one out. And remember having anything less than 3 cups is doomed to bring bad luck to the household – respect the tradition, as long as it’s not close to bedtime!