Gonder – Amhara Region, Ethiopia

The Surviving Castles and Churches of a Fallen Empire

At its strategic position at the foothills of the Simen Mountains, one of the highest ranges in Africa, Gonder became the capital of the Ethiopian empire in the 17th century under Emperor Fasil, and remained so for 250 years.

Surrounded by high stone walls, the Royal Enclosure lies at the heart of the town and is a one-stop visit for the most important imperial buildings. No fewer than five castles can be found there, the oldest attributed to Fasil and the most recent dating to the mid-18th century. In addition to being the empire’s administrative and commercial center, Gonder was also its religious center. Of the dozens of churches that once populated the city, seven were built during Fasil’s reign.

The most important standing today is Debre Birhan Selassie, famed for its 17th-century ceiling fresco of eighty cherubic faces.

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