The Rise & Fall of Gondar (1636 – 1855)

Posted: May 28, 2016 in Ethiopia - the Secret of Africa
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Founded by emperor Fasilides, Gondar became a permanent capital – the first in Ethiopian history since the days of the ancient kingdoms of Axum and Lalibela – and the city would flourish for some 200 years. By the end of the 17th century, Gondar had magnificent palaces, large plantations, beautiful gardens and a large, successful market. It attracted visitors from all over the world, since the court was very rich and extravagant parties were organised for the many guests.

Arts and crafts also flourished and impressive churches were built – among them the famous Debre Birhan Selassie church. This was also the period when the remarkable island churches of Lake Tana were built.

Many of these impressive buildings, palaces and churches have survived the test of time and they are the main tourist attractions of the Gondar area today.

But Gondar’s sumptuous court was not a very friendly place – there were many conspiracies to overthrow various emperors. The royal bodyguard, the church-officials, the noblemen and even ordinary citizens: everybody tried to take over the power. There were assassinations (emperor Iyasu was murdered), intrigue, ethnic tensions and all of that led to chaos. Some emperors briefly restored stability, during which new palaces and churches were built, but in general, the emperors became less and less powerful. After 1755, the emperors became little more than puppets in the hands of the rival feudal lords and their powerful provincial armies. These lords were also fighting each other, trying to expand their territory. It was a period of ‘survival of the strongest’, without any central rule.


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