Gondar & Semein Mountains

  • (tucked under the foot hills of Simien Mountains)
  • After a period of many centuries during which Ethiopia was ruled by succession of temporary capitals Fasiledes Castle Fasiledes (Fasil) recognized that a permanent capital might help provide greater internal stability. Fasil settled on the small village of Gondar with its strategic hill top location at an Altitude of 2120m in the southern foothills of the Simien Mountains. Gondar as capital city was established by Fasil in 1636.
  • It is situated in the foothills of the Simien mountain ranges at altitude of 2120m. It was established in 1636 by emperor Fasil served as the emperial capital for 250 yrs before power shift to the south.
  • Gonder today is the fourth largest city in Ethiopia with a population exceeding 215000. Much of the modern town date from the Italian temporary occupation of 1936-41. It enjoys temperate climate.
  • The City of Gondar to this day is dominated by the Royal enclosure containing six well preserved castles like palaces and other buildings. Lying at the center of the city the royal enclosure is surrounded by high stone walls and covers an area of 70,000m2, connecting tunnels and raised walk ways.

What to see

The Royal enclosure

  • The most impressive and the original castle with in the Royal compound is Fasiledes Castle built around 1640 AD. It is the oldest and perhaps most impressive of the castles. This castle is made of stone shows a unique combination of Axumite, Portuguese and Indian architectural influences. The Royal archive building was destroyed by the British bombing during liberation in the 2nd WW. Other castles include the castle of Yohannes and Iyasu the great. Fasiledes Castle
  • The castle of Iyasu is the largest in the compound but also partly destroyed by the combined effect of the 1704 earth quake and the British bombardment. King Dawit’s lions cage, the consort hall, king Bakafa”s Banquet hall and stables and finally Mentwabs Castle are also the other interesting buildings in the compound. Iyasu was visited by a French doctor known as Poncet who described the emperor as a” lively and Sagacious genius” Poncet also left and account of a ceremony that gives some flavor of 17th C Gondar.
  • Some of the interesting churches with in the wall of the Royal compound are Gemjabet Maryam, Elfign Giorgis and Kidus Michael.
  • The Royal enclosure is included in the world heritage list

Fasiledes pool and surrounds:

Lies some 2 kms from the center along Bahir Dar road. It is a sunken bathing pool attributed to Emperor Fasiledes. The pool is overlooked by a two storey building popularly said to have been Fasiledes second residence. These days the pool is the central stage on which the Timkat (Epiphany) festival is celebrated in Gondar.

Kusquam complex

About 3.5 kms out of the town in the hills North West of the town is the royal compound called Kusquam which was built by Impress Mentwab after the death of her husband Emperor Bakaffa in 1730. It was here at Kusquam that the Scottish Travelers James Bruce spent several months waiting for permission to visit the source of Blue Nile at Gishe Abay.

Debre Birhan Silassie church

Was founded by emperor Iyasu I in the 1690s and lies around 2kms to the north east of Gondar. It is the only church which survived the 1880s Mahdists (Dervishes) attacks according to local traditions the intervention of swarms of bees. Fasiledes Castle

The much photographed ceiling decorated with paintings of 80 Cherubic faces is probably the most famous single example of ecclesiastical art in Ethiopia. The walls are also painted with dozens of scenes. The paintings are traditionally held to be the work of the 17th C Artist Haile Meskel.

Other points of interest to tourists in and around Gondar include the open market, the City center (Piazza), Italian art deco and buildings from Italian temporary occupation and rule, Wolleqa (Felasha Village): to see the tradition of Ethiopian Judaism, the old synagogue and pottery works.

Today Gondar is the fourth largest city with a population estimated to be 150,000. It is also one of the Big four attractions along the Northern circuit and a convenient place to explore the Simien mountains National park

Trips from Gondar


Situated 67kms from Gondar on the northern shore of Lake Tana makes a pleasant excursion from Gondar. Some its most important relics of its former days include the attractive round church of Debre Sina Maryam and the ruins of susenyos”s old palace.

Debre Tabor

Lying some 155kms from Gondar was formerly the site of an important Ethiopian capital during the 18th and 19th centuries. The ruins of the old palace along with the old churches of Debre Tabor are some of the interesting sights.


Lying some 32kms from Gondar commands very good view points of the Semein Mountains. About an hour walking across the cliff offers a good chance of seeing Gelada baboons and some birds of prey such as the bearded vulture.

The Semein Mountains Fasiledes Castle

Found about 100kms north of Gondar the Semein Mountains are Africa’s largest ranges studded with at least a dozen peaks topping the 4000m mark. This includes Ras Dashen (Dejen) the highest point in Ethiopia and the fourth highest in Africa. According to homer, the Semein Mountains were the play grounds of the Greek gods, who came here to play chess. According to the traveler Rosita Forbes “the most marvelous of all Abyssinian Landscape”. The scenery is spectacular.

The Semein is also home to a variety of Endemic and semi endemic wildlife such as Walia Ibex, Ethiopian Wolf and Gelada Baboons. It is also home to varieties endemic, non endemic birds and plants species. See Semein mountain national park under national parks & wild life.

Gondar to Axum by Road

The full day drive on the road between Gondar and Axum is one of the most dramatic and scenic roads. The Italian built road clings giddily to the slops and the drama is increased by the presence of the jaggedly evocative spines of the simiens towering to the left. The altitude drops down around 2000m between Debark and Adarkay.