Gondar in northern Ethiopia allows you to experience the grandeur of the African medieval period: a time of kings and dynasties, conquerors and castles, churches, and the creation of early towns. Emperor Fasilidas founded Gondar in 1635, which grew to be a marketing and agricultural center. Prior to this period, towns were mostly temporary encampments, but Falisidas had the vision to establish churches as well as his own grounds, giving people reasons to stay and create lives based on peace rather than war.

By the mid-seventeenth century, Gondar had grown to a complex city of 60,000 people, divided into segregated quarters based on religion: Muslims, Jews, early Christians, and the ruling nobility were accommodated. The city gave diverse peoples an identity based on shared values, without actually blending or subsuming their unique traditions. The shared Amharic culture evolved into a sense of pride for the inhabitants who retained their original values.

Gondar was sacked and destroyed several times in subsequent centuries, but the city still maintains examples of the art and architecture of ancient times. Ruins of various former rulers exhibit the majesty of the past, and churches still have remnants of a rich tradition of fresco painting. As an example, the interior of the church of Debra Berhan Selassie has vivid depictions of eighty different angels’ faces on the ceiling and paintings of the Trinity, St. Mary, and the life of Jesus on its walls.

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