What’s Fasil Ghebbi?

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Fasil Ghebbi, a fortress in Gondar, Ethiopia, was the royal palace of Ethiopian emperors in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes impressive structures such as Fasilides Castle and Iyasu Palace, which were richly decorated but have since lost their ornaments. The site is a reminder of the great empire in northeast Africa and is a mix of Islamic, Hindi, and Baroque styles.

Fasil Ghebbi is a large fortress in Gondar, Ethiopia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been since 1979. It was the royal palace of the emperors of Ethiopia for much of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Gondar is a large city in Ethiopia, which was for a time the capital of the Empire. In the beginning, the Ethiopian emperors did not have a fixed city as their capital. Instead, they lived semi-nomadic lifestyles, traveling their kingdom with their royal retinue, living in temporary tent cities. In the mid-16th century emperors began settling in one region, around Lake Tana, for much of the year.

In the early 17th century, Emperor Fasilides had chosen Gondar as the site of his empire’s new capital. Exactly why Fasilides chose Gondar is uncertain, but there are a number of legends which attempt to explain the choice of him. The most popular holds that an archangel appeared and prophesied that the new capital would be built in a city whose name began with the letter G. Another legend has it that when Fasilides was on a hunting trip, a buffalo, led by God , guided Fasilides to the site of Gondar.

Fasil Ghebbi, within Gondar, is a huge fortress. Fasil Ghebbi encompasses many structures, including Iyasu Palace, Mentewab Castle, and Fasilides Castle. The site is imposing and majestic and many have described it as the Camelot of Africa.

Fasilides Castle was built in the late 1640s and still stands in a relatively pristine condition. It almost seems out of place to many who visit, appearing in many ways like a European castle transported to Africa. The architecture is quite diverse, drawing on Islamic, Hindi and Baroque styles and combining them in an aesthetically pleasing and militarily adept way.

Fasilides was noted for his architecture, erecting no fewer than seven churches and seven major bridges during his time as emperor. Fasil Ghebbi is certainly his most impressive achievement, however. It recalls an era of great empire in the region and can be a very enlightening experience for Westerners unfamiliar with the imperial history of northeast Africa.

Iyasu Palace, also within Fasil Ghebbi, is also a stunning achievement. In his time it was described as greater even than the House of Solomon. It was said to be richly decorated with all sorts of ornaments. Gold leaf adorned the ceilings, as did precious stones of the finest quality. Ivory and fine woodwork covered the interior walls, as did majestic paintings of flora. In the years that have passed, however, all these ornaments have vanished, moved elsewhere, looted or destroyed by the ravages of time. Iyasu Palace, like much of Fasil Ghebbi, is now nothing more than a reflection of its former glory.

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