Gondar or Gonder: Ancient Ethiopia

Gondar Ethiopia History


Gondar, with its spectacular castles, was the capital of the Ethiopia kingdom from the 17th through the 19th century.

In 1632 the emperor Fasiladas built the first castle at Gondar, then a village near Lake Tana. He may not have intended to create a new capital, but he hoped to find a better residence during the rainy season than the tents of the earlier nomadic court. During the following decades, however, Gondar did become the capital of the empire, and it remained so until the middle of the 19thcentury. It seems that each emperor built his own castle, ignoring those of his ancestors – a custom that may lie in the competitive nature of Amhara and Tigrinya society, where young men have traditionally proved their status by surpassing their elders as well as their rivals. The fact that their defensive walls would not have withstood the military technology of the day suggests that they were constructed largely for display. Ethiopian emperors liked to display their wealth and power by employing foreign experts, and some scholars believe the palaces incorporate the skills of Italian or Indian masons, as contacts with both countries had increased after the Portuguese had arrived in Ethiopia in the 16th century.

Gondar declined during the chaotic Era of the Princes (1706-1853 A.D.), when powerful local warlords dominated the emperors who lived among the crumbling palaces. The emperor Tewodros II, whose supremacy ended the anarchy of the Princes, sacked Gondar twice during the 1860s, removing the treasures of its churches. The troops of the Mahdi, the Islamic reformer who founded a state in neighboring Sudan, also burned the city during the 1880s. Many of the most impressive castles and churches remain, however, along with a charming pavilion known as the Bath of Fasiladas where the festival of Timkat is still celebrated every year to mark the baptism of Christ.

Gondar Ethiopia History

Cradle Of Humanity?

In palaeoanthropology, where years are measured in tenths of millions, 40 years is less than a blink of an eye. However, 40 years worth of palaeoanthropological study can rock the very foundations of human history.

After Richard Leakey’s discovery of skull 1470 near Kenya’s Lake Turkana in 1972, which proved Homo habilis (the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens) had lived alongside Australopithecus africanus and therefore couldn’t have evolved from them, the search was on for a new species that had branched into the genera Homo and Australopithecus, a species that would likely be Darwin’s ‘missing link’.

On 30 November 1974 Lucy was discovered in a dried-up lake near Hadar in Ethiopia’s northeast. She was a new species, A. afarensis, and she miraculously walked on two legs 3.2 million years ago. Lucy’s bipedal (upright walking) anatomy also shattered previous theories that hypothesised our ancestors only started walking upright after evolving larger brains. Lucy, the oldest and most complete hominid ever found, was famous and Ethiopia was tipped to claim the prize as the cradle of humanity.

After further finds in Ethiopia, like the 1992 discovery of the 4.4-million-year-old A. ramidus, whose foot bones hinted at bipedism, the ink on Ethiopia’s claim was almost dry. However recent CT scans on a six-million-year-old hominid skeleton (Orrorin tugenensis) found in Kenya in 2001, and computer aided reconstruction of a six- to seven-million-year-old skull (Sahelanthropus tchadensis) in Chad seem to suggest that Lucy andA. ramidus may not be part of the direct line of human evolution, but rather a lateral branch of it. This is undoubtedly highly controversial – visit Lucy in Addis Ababa’s National Museum and show her some support!

Regardless of what still lies beneath the soil of Ethiopia, Kenya or Chad, it’s clear to the palaeoanthropologists of today that human life as we know it started in this region of Africa. Although, 40 more years of palaeoanthropology may turn things upside down, again. All it takes is the blink of an eye.


Ethiopia Christianity

Ancient Ethiopia and Greece

Tales of Ethiopia as a mythical land at the farthest edges of the earth are recorded in some of the earliest Greek literature of the eighth century B.C., including the epic poems of Homer. Greek gods and heroes, like Menelaos, were believed to have visited this place on the fringes of the known world. However, long before Homer, the seafaring civilization of Bronze Age Crete, known today as Minoan, established trade connections with Egypt. The Minoans may have first come into contact with Africans at Thebes, during the periodic bearing of tribute to the pharaoh. In fact, paintings in the tomb of Rekhmire, dated to the fourteenth century B.C., depict African and Aegean peoples, most likely Nubians and Minoans. However, with the collapse of the Minoan and Mycenaean palaces at the end of the Late Bronze Age, trade connections with Egypt and the Near East were severed as Greece entered a period of impoverishment and limited contact.


Ethiopia Christianity






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