Gondar is located in northwestern Ethiopia in the Amhara region, just north of Lake T’ana and roughly 260 miles northwest of the country’s capital, Addis Ababa. Recognized as the cradle of Ethiopian art and culture, Gondar is a city with origins that date to the 1630s and its founding by Emperor Fasilidas. Many of its early churches and castles built during these founding years are still in existence and accessible to visitors today. Gondar was the first permanent capital of Ethiopia, serving that purpose from 1635 until 1867. Today, Gondar is home to approximately 200,000 people and is the fifth-most populated city in Ethiopia. It serves as a regional trade center and supports both a university and a medical school. The economy of Gondar is driven by retail and wholesale trade, agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and textiles production. Sitting roughly 7,200 feet above sea level, Gondar is located in the foothills of the Simien Mountains and is surrounded by both arid lands and lush green hills.
Gondar is popular as a tourist attraction for its many picturesque ruins in the Royal Enclosure, from which the Emperors once reigned. The most famous buildings in the city lie in the Royal Enclosure, which include Fasilides castle, Iyasu’s Palace, Dawit’s Hall, a banqueting hall, stables, Mentewab’s Castle, a chancellery, library and three churches. Near the city lie Fasiladas’ Bath, home to an annual ceremony where it is blessed and then opened for bathing; the Qusquam complex, built by Empress Mentewab; the eighteenth century Ras Mikael Sehul’s Palace and the Debre Berhan Selassie Church.
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. Villas and flats in the nearby quarter that once housed occupation officials and colonists are also of interest.
Ethiopian Airways flies between Gondar and Addis Ababa, Bahar Dar, Axum and Lalibela.