Gondar and the Royal Enclosure
Gondar or Gonder is a city and separate woreda in Ethiopia. Located in the Semien Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region, Gondar is north of Tana Lake on the Lesser Angereb River and southwest of the Simien Mountains. It has a latitude and longitude of 12°36′N 37°28′E with an elevation of 2133 meters above sea level.
Gondar previously served as the capital of both the Ethiopian Empire and the subsequent Begemder Province. The city has been referred to as the “Camelot of Africa” due to the presence of several royal castles.
Gondar traditionally was divided into several neighborhoods or quarters: Addis Alem, where the Muslim inhabitants dwelled (as mentioned above); Kayla Meda, where the adherents of Beta Israel lived; Abun Bet, centered on the residence of the Abuna, or nominal head of the Ethiopian Church; and Qagn Bet, home to the nobility. Gondar is also a noted center of ecclesiastical learning of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and known for having 44 churches – for many years more than any other settlement in Ethiopia. Gondar and its surrounding countryside constitute the homeland of most Ethiopian Jews.
The modern city of Gondar is popular as a tourist destination for its many picturesque ruins in the Royal Enclosure, from which the Emperors once reigned. The most famous buildings in the city lie in the Royal Enclosure, which include Fasilides castle, Iyasu’s Palace, Dawit’s Hall, a banqueting hall, stables, Mentewab’s Castle, a chancellery, library and three churches. Near the city lie Fasilides’ Bath, home to an annual ceremony where it is blessed and then opened for bathing; the Qusquam complex, built by Empress Mentewab; the eighteenth century Ras Mikael Sehul’s Palace and the Debre Berhan Selassie Church.
Downtown Gondar shows the influence of the Italian occupation of the late 1930s. The main piazza features shops, a cinema, and other public buildings in a simplified Italian Modern style still distinctively of the period despite later changes and, frequently, neglect. Villas and flats in the nearby quarter that once housed occupation officials and colonists are also of interest.