My Ethiopian Adventure: The Fasilades Bath Palace and the Church of Debre Birhan Selassie

Gonder’s treasures take time to explore because there are so many of them.  Although the Fasilades Bath Palace remains empty of water most of the year, a huge crowd appears during the annual Timket (Epiphany) baptism celebrations when it is filled with water from the Gaha River.  The area around the church fills completely with water and people. I saw photos with thousands of people in the water.  Since we were there in July, the area around the church remained dry except for puddles left by recent rains.



Obviously, given the manner in which it was built, the priest stands on the balcony when the bottom is full of water and people.  On the wall around, huge fig trees grow.


Zuriash and I could not resist a photo with these incredible trees.


The area around the Bath Palace creates a bit of green paradise with grasses, trees, and wildlife thriving in profusion.



One rarely sees a horse so revered that his owner creates a special tomb just for him.  However, King Fasiledes owned just such a horse. The building in the photo below illustrates how much King Fasiledes loved his favorite horse, Zobal, who saved him in battle.  This Tomb of Zobal awaits restoration.


The Ethiopian Orthodox Church thrives in this area of Ethiopia.  Young men continue to desire to learn and become priests as illustrated in the photo below showing a large group of young men training for the priesthood.



The grandson of King Fasiledes, Eyasu I, built this church.  The name means Trinity Mountain of Light.  Famous for its ceiling, it is the only church in Gonder remaining after the siege of Gonder in 1888, when the Mahdist Dervishes from Sudan invaded the city.  They burned down all the other churches.  Legend claims a swarm of bees descended on the church compound and the Archangel Michael stood at the gates with a flaming sword to protect the church.  Notice the spelling in the sign differs from the spelling I have used for Gonder.  Since Amharic is a totally phonetic language, it cannot be translated directly into English.  Therefore, spelling sometimes differs.  I use the spelling from the official map printed for Ethiopian tourists.


The compound around the church is large, green, lush.



The concept/symbolism of the Lion of Judah shows up everywhere.  Here on top of the arch is the tail of the lion.  Its head is toward the front of the church.  We saw so much so quickly that sometimes by the time I grasped what I needed to photograph, we had passed it.  Other times we saw things totally unexpected, like the buzzards in the tree below.



The church decorations barely moved in the little wind.  The guide informed us, a special celebration would soon occur.


Like many Ethiopian churches, this one is somewhat circular with a hall around the entire church between the outside and inside walls.  The paintings inside left me totally awestruck.



The ceiling for which this church remains especially famous is detailed, colorful.  Every picture tells a specific story from the Bible or Ethiopian Christian history.



As in the other churches we visited, ornate draperies cover the areas where the sacraments are kept where only to priests may enter.


When you walk through the church gates, you face this scene:  one giant tree.  Yes, just one tree.


When lunch time arrived, our guide on the left in the photo, took us to the Four Sisters Restaurant.  The ceiling here duplicated the ceiling in the church.  The food as well as the decor was fabulous.  The guide and Alemu ordered a plate with a little of everything on it.  By this time on the trip I had acquired a taste for a favorite food, shiro.  The rolled up tortilla like food on the plate is injera, usually made from the grain teff.


The guide decided I needed an Ethiopian name so he gave me one as illustrated above with Amharic on the top and my name phonetically written in English on the bottom.  It means Good Gold.


Zuriash decided she had to have one of these big baskets even if they were not for sale.  We stood around while Dino bargained.  The hotel where we stayed had a wonderful view over the city and, as I previously noted, a great shower.  The two nights we stayed there (not in succession) a nicely wrapped tooth brush and tooth paste lay beside the sink.  I brought the tooth brushes home with me rather than using them there. What a mistake!  The best tooth brush ever, no kidding.  My teeth were never so clean as they are now and to get more, I guess I will have to go back to Gonder.



My Ethiopian Adventure: the Castles of Gonder

Nestled in the foothills of the Simien Mountains, Gonder, founded by King Fasiledes in 1636, remained the capital of Ethiopia for 200 years.  Its castles, built in the 1600s, housed royal family members and reflect architectural influences from Axum, Portugal, and India.






The first and largest castle housed King Fasiledes and his family.  Because of restoration, visitors can climb to the various floors and look at the different rooms. The castle compound remains popular with locals, especially for taking family photographs, weddings, etc.


The arched castle windows seemed perfect for framing photographs.


On the second story, the floor, now restored, gleamed in the late morning light.


Seven castles remain inside the compound walls.  They were built my successive rulers, descendants of King Fasiledes, several of whom came to reign after having other family members, including one father, assassinated.


Dino, and our guide, outside the original castle, looking down into…




Many of the original buildings, crumbled by time and weather, still stand, surrounded by lush greenery.


In the middle of the photo background stands the Hotel Goha, where we stayed, looking down over the castles.


If you look closely, you can see a buzzard in the top window of the castle in the foreground. These castles stand witness to the strength and endurance of stone.






The old and the new:  two young men text on the 450 year old stairwell.


Frequently, for centuries, Ethiopian royalty kept tame lions.  Their cages still stand.  Ethiopian lions possess different characteristics than lions farther south in Africa; they are smaller with much darker manes, often referred to as black.


The friends with whom I travelled.  Dino grew up in Dire Dawa.


The royal stables remain intact complete with their wooden doors.


The banquets hall’s ceiling sagged so the Italians tried to repair it with cement.  Disastrous results–it crumbles and sags.  Originally, Ethiopia architecture/construction did not use cement.  Their methods, as evidenced by many of these castles and most definitely by the still used churches in Lalibela, stand the test of centuries.





A very forward thinking woman, decades ahead of her time, the Empress Mentewab, built a school for women to learn various trades so they could support themselves. Like many other buildings in the castle complex this too remains under restoration.



The perfect place to stroll, contemplate, and…