Gondar was founded in 1635 by Emperor Fasilidas and was the imperial capital for 250 years prior to the rise of Emperor Tewodros. The city is one of the main tourist attractions on the northern historical circuit, best known for its 17th-century castles and palaces as well as the fantastically decorated church of Debra Birhan Selassie (below).

The Fasil Ghebbi, or Royal Enclosure, lies at the heart of modern Gondar and gives the city much of its character.
It contains many castles with the most impressive being the one built by Fasilidas around 1640. Made of stone, it shows a unique combination of Portuguese and Indian influences. From the mid 20th century until 2002, restoration work was carried out, using the original construction methods, with UNESCO funding.

There are 44 churches in Gondar, at least seven of which date from Fasilidas’s rule. Debre Birhan Selassie, or Mountain of the Enlightened Trinity, was one of these churches. Founded in the 1690s by Iyasu, it was the most important church in the 18th century due to the fact that it was the site of many royal burials. Debre Birhan Selassie is also the only one of these seven that was left completely untouched during an attack by the Dervish or Mahdist of Sudan in 1888. It was saved from the Dervish attacks by the intervention of a swarm of bees... or so they say in Gondar.

Other attractions include: Iyasu's palace, Dawit's Hall, a banqueting hall, stables, Empress Mentewab's castle, a chancellery, library and more churches. Near the city lies Fasilides' Bath, home to an annual ceremony where it is blessed and then opened for bathing, the Qusquam complex built by Empress Mentewab,and the eighteenth century Ras Mikael Sehul's Palace.

Downtown Gondar shows the influence of the Italian occupation of the late 1930s. The main piazza features shops, a cinema, and other public buildings in a simplified Italian Moderne style still distinctively of the period despite later changes and, frequently, neglect. Villas and flats in the nearby quarter that once housed occupation officials and colonists are also of interest.

Gondar was once the home of a large population of Ethiopian Jews, most of whom emigrated to Israel in the late 20th and early 21st century, including the current Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia.

Talk with Amlaku of Baregota Travel and Tours about the best way to see the highlights of Gondar over a couple of days.