Harar and Dire Dawa

Two cities, separated by only 34 miles (55 km), are light years apart in other aspects. 

Harar represent ancient Africa, and is considered by many Muslims to be the fourth holiest city in the world. However, although it is a religious center, its people are tolerant and cosmopolitan. Walls surround the city, which is accessed through one of its five gates representing the pillars of Islam. Ancient Harar was the center of international trade with the Arabian Peninsula and the entire Horn of Africa, and had its own currency. During its heyday in the sixteenth century, it was home to intellectuals, poets and writers, weavers and bookbinders, and coffee growers. With around 100 mosques and numerous shrines in the city and its attractive surrounding areas, Harar is a vital destination for travelers, especially those with special interests: ethnologists, anthropologists, and speleologists (cave explorers). A highlight of a visit to Harar is the daily feeding of hyenas—a practice begun in early times as a way to deal with the city’s waste.

Dire Dawa is Ethiopia’s second largest city, divided by a usually dry river bed (wadi) into two parts—one side designed by the French with a central square, tree-lined avenues, and pastel-colored, colonial-style buildings; and the older, Muslim part of the city with narrow streets leading to the lively, bustling central market attended by traditionally dressed Afar and Oromo people. Founded in 1902, when the Addis Ababa–Djibouti railway circumvented higher and more remote Harar, a new trading center grew up around Dire Dawa. The most common mode of transportation is motorized rickshaw (bajaj), used by residents and tourists alike.

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