Some 200 years of relative peace and stability, made a renaissance of Ethiopian civilization known as the Gonderine period possible in the seventeenth century. At this time a rich and distinct expression of architecture, art, music and literature flourished. Great care and attention was also paid to the pursuit of leisure and to providing the luxuries for the elite classes of society. Embellishments such as Turkish bath installations, the kitchen complex of Mintewab’s palace, the amusement park of Fassil and the dedication of a mausoleum to a horse attest to this. Gondar was known for its medieval pageantry, gilded regalia and extravagant ceremonies.
THE GONDAR CASTLES
Following the demise of Lalibela toward the end of the 13th century, Ethiopia had no national capital for hundreds of years. The emperors had to keep on the move on constant campaigns to safeguard their vast empire and ensure allegiance to their rule. For their seat of government, they had to make do with what are known in the historical literature as ‘roving tent capitals’. Tired of this migratory and nomadic lifestyle of so many of his forefathers, Emperor Fassiledes founded Gondar in 1636 and had the first and most magnificent of the castles built. Succeeding Emperors made their own additions mostly within the same castle compound. Although the exact date of construction of this imposing edifice is not known, a Yemeni ambassador visiting Gondar in 1648 described it as “one of the most marvelous of buildings”. Emperor Fassil is to be admired for another pioneering endeavor in the history of Ethiopian civil works. No less than four stone bridges (two on the Blue Nile and the other two on the rivers around Gondar) are credited to him.
DEBRE BIRHAN SELASSIE CHURCH
Besides the eleven or so castles and related buildings, the 17th century Debre Birhan Selassie Church is the only one that has survived the repeated destructions of Gondar at hands of the Dervish (Egypto-Sudanse), Tewodros, the Italians and the British. The church is a rich showcase of the religious art of the Gonderine period and its ceiling of painted angels is only one of its kind.