The Camelot of Africa
Despite a modest skyline of shanty style shacks and stone structures eroded by time, Gonder is home to some of Ethiopia's most fascinating historical sites.
Amongst sprawling side streets and crumbling city walls, you'll find evidence of Gonder's deep history and past political influence.
The home of kings and queens in a bygone era, it's easy to get lost in thought as you try to imagine what life might have been like for those who lived in this town, and for the kings, queens, princesses and warlords who took residence in the very same buildings you're now exploring.
Best things to do in Gonder
Visit the Royal Enclosure (Fasil Ghebbi)
Towering over Gonder amongst a sea of faded colonial era buildings, The Royal Enclosure, also known as ‘Fasil Ghebbi, was built in the 1600’s by Emperor Fasilides.
Right in the centre of the city, there are six castles enclosed by an impressive 900 metre long stone wall. These castles served as the primary residence for the Ethiopian royal family, and fulfilled this function until 1864.
One of the few UNESCO world heritage sites in sub-saharan Africa, the buildings were once adorned in ornate decorations, sourced from all corners of the known world, and was celebrated as an architectural marvel when built.
The compound has diverse architectural influences, including Arab, Hindu, and Baroque styles. It is made up of churches, palaces, and public and private buildings such as libraries, banquet halls and stables.
What must it have been like to live within these stone walls at the peak of Gonderine influence all those years ago?
Explore Fasiladas’ Bath
Across town lies one of Gonder's best preserved historical sites.
Fasiladas’ Bath, also called Fasil Mewagna by locals, is a place of beauty, worship, and celebration.
Much of the history surrounding the conception and construction of these buildings is clouded in mystery. In its prime, the structure served as a retreat for the royal family.
Built around the same time as Fasil Ghebbi, the bathhouse has taken on various functions over the centuries. Today, it is the evangelical epicentre for the Ethiopian Christians every January during the festival of Timkat.
On the 19th January, the now bone dry bathhouse, is once again filled with water for Timket, a yearly festival reenacting Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan.
Entrance to the bath is included in the ticket price for the Royal Enclosure.
Visit the Debre Birhan Selassie Church
Known worldwide for its brightly coloured frescoes and vivid depictions of various biblical tales, Debre Birhan Selassie is considered one of the most important churches for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.
Built in the 17th century by Emperor Eyasu II, the church is surrounded by a row of twelve stone towers, each representing one of the 12 apostles.
The interior walls of Debre Birhan Selassie (meaning 'Light of the Trinity') are adorned with vivid depictions of biblical events.
If you look up to the ceiling, you'll find beautiful winged angels said to represent the omnipresence of God.
Experience the Saturday Market
The official name of the market is the Kidame Gebya Market, and whilst it runs all week, the busiest day is on Saturday.
You can buy everything here, with vendors selling clothes, local crafts, coffee beans, authentic Ethiopian coffee pots, vegetables and much more.
Like most markets in Ethiopia, the fun is in getting lost in the chaos of it all.
Kusuam Church is a mountaintop monastery two miles from central Gonder.
Many of the paintings that originally decorated these walls have now been moved to the Debre Berhan Selassie church, however in their place a range of more modern artwork adorns the stone walls, unique in a land full of archaic churches full of centuries old art.
Around the church, several small museums can be found, with a range of ancient Ethiopian literature, art and what remains of the three rulers who helped construct the site.
Buildings have been found on site as far back as the early 1600’s, with a church founded by empress Mentewab lying underneath the current structure.
Once the focal point for the Jewish faith in Ethiopia, not much life remains in Falash Village after the last of its residents were fled to Israel in the 1980’s.
An eerie remnant of antiquity, this once thriving hub sadly swallowed by the pressure of prejudice and is now a ghost town.
Don't visit here expecting to see much of anything - it's the history of the place that makes it interesting.
Around 3km north of Gondar, there are several craft stalls dotted around the now desolate streets, selling tidbits and mementos of the now nonexistent culture that once infused this land.
Known for their amazing craft skills, these Ethiopian Jews, known as Falasha, were often abused at the hands of the Christian majority, with much of the pottery and fine art they were known for sadly lost to the sands of time.
Dinner at the Four Sisters Restaurant
Considered one of the best eateries in Gonder, the four sisters restaurant has been serving up a range of delicious local and international dishes for decades, and has a long line of happy customers.
If you want to sample local food, the four sisters offer plenty of local cuisine including a range of vegan and vegetarian options.
For those looking for home comforts, the restaurant is known for its take on many western classics.
The restaurant has a great atmosphere, nice outdoor seating area, and is one of the best spots to spend the evening in Gonder.
Head into the Simien Mountains
Gonder is the gateway town into the Simien Mountains National Park, and most visitors will fly into Gonder, spend a day or two exploring the city, and then head up into the mountains.
It is a roughly 3-hour drive from Gonder to the Simiens, so you'll want to leave early enough to make the most of your first day in the park.
Ready to explore Gonder?
Fusing history, culture, landscapes and wildlife along a perfectly paced circuit, this trip is a synthesis of the very best experiences on offer in Ethiopia’s northern highlands. Explorations of the ancient cities Axum, Gondar, Bahir Dar and Lalibela are broken…