Castles of Gondar

Travel to Gondar – Land of a 1001 Palaces

Located in the Semien Gondar zone of the Amhara region of Ethiopia, Gondar lies north of Lake Tana on the Lesser Angereb River and southwest of the Simien Mountains.

This old imperial city thus nestles in the foothills of the Simien Mountains and is famous for its castle-like palaces. Accessible by road from Bahir Dar or via a short flight, Gondar is one of the most important sites on the Historic Route.

Gondar was founded by Emperor Fasilides around 1635, and grew as an agricultural and market town. In 1668, as a result of a church council, the Emperor Yohannes I ordered that the inhabitants of Gondar be segregated by religion. This caused the Muslims to move into their own quarter known under the name of Addis Alem.

During the 17th century, the city’s population exploded making it the second largest city in the world. The town served as Ethiopia’s capital until Tewodros II moved the Imperial capital to Magadala upon being crowned Emperor in 1855. The city was plundered and burnt in 1864, then devastated again in December, 1866.

After the conquest of Ethiopia by the Kingdom of Italy in 1936, Gondar was further developed under Italian occupation. During the Second World War, Italian forces made their last stand in Gondar in November 1941, after Addis Ababa fell to British forces six months before. The area of Gondar was one of the main centres of activity of Italian guerrilla against the British forces until summer 1943.

The modern city of Gondar is popular for its many picturesque ruins and palaces. Among them, there is the city’s main imperial precinct known as the Royal Enclosure that includes five castles.

The main buildings in this enclosure include the Castle of Fasilades, the oldest of those five, built of stone in the mid-17th century, reflecting a number of influences, Axumite, Portuguese and Indian; Lyasu’s Palace; Dawit’s Hall, a banqueting hall, stables, Mentewab’s Castle, a chancellery, a library and three churches.

Other attractions include the Palace of Ras Beit built in the 18th century as a private residence of the famous king maker, Ras Mikael Sehul; the Bath of Fasilades, a sunken pool still used for the Timkat Festival in January; and the Qusquam complex, built by Empress Mentewab.

  • Explore the magnificent Royal Enclosure.
  • Witness the influence of the Italian occupation in Gondar downtown.
  • Enjoy the Timkat ceremony at the Fasiladas’ Bath.


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