1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gondar

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See also Gondar on Wikipedia; and our 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica disclaimer. Abyssinia is the present-day “Ethiopia”. “Gondar” may also refer to its province, Amhara.

GONDAR, properly Guendar, a town of Abyssinia, formerly the capital of the Amharic kingdom, situated on a basaltic ridge some 7500 ft. above the sea, about 21 m. N.E. of Lake Tsana, a splendid view of which is obtained from the castle. Two streams, the Angreb on the east side and the Gaha or Kaha on the west, flow from the ridge, and meeting below the town, pass onwards to the lake. In the early years of the 20th century the town was much decayed, numerous ruins of castles, palaces and churches indicating its former importance. It was never a compact city, being divided into districts separated from each other by open spaces. The chief quarters were those of the Abun-Bed or bishop, the Etchege-Bed or chief of the monks, the Debra Berhan or Church of the Light, and the Gemp or castle. There was also a quarter for the Mahommedans. Gondar was a small village when at the beginning of the 16th century it was chosen by the Negus Sysenius (Seged I.) as the capital of his kingdom. His son Fasilidas, or A’lem-Seged (1633–1667), was the builder of the castle which bears his name. Later emperors built other castles and palaces, the latest in date being that of the Negus Yesu II. This was erected about 1736, at which time Gondar appears to have been at the height of its prosperity. Thereafter it suffered greatly from the civil wars which raged in Abyssinia, and was more than once sacked. In 1868 it was much injured by the emperor Theodore, who did not spare either the castle or the churches. After the defeat of the Abyssinians at Debra Sin in August 1887 Gondar was looted and fired by the dervishes under Abu Anga. Although they held the town but a short time they inflicted very great damage, destroying many churches, further damaging the castles and carrying off much treasure. The population, estimated by James Bruce in 1770 at 10,000 families, had dwindled in 1905 to about 7000. Since the pacification of the Sudan by the British (1886–1889) there has been some revival of trade between Gondar and the regions of the Blue Nile. Among the inhabitants are numbers of Mahommedans, and there is a settlement of Falashas. Cotton, cloth, gold and silver ornaments, copper wares, fancy articles in bone and ivory, excellent saddles and shoes are among the products of the local industry.

Unlike any other buildings in Abyssinia, the castles and palaces of Gondar resemble, with some modifications, the medieval fortresses of Europe, the style of architecture being the result of the presence in the country of numbers of Portuguese. The Portuguese were expelled by Fasilidas, but his castle was built, by Indian workmen, under the superintendence of Abyssinians who had learned something of architecture from the Portuguese adventurers, helped possibly by Portuguese still in the country. The castle has two storeys, is 90 ft. by 84 ft., has a square tower and circular domed towers at the corners. The most extensive ruins are a group of royal buildings enclosed in a wall. These ruins include the palace of Yesu II., which has several fine chambers. Christian Levantines were employed in its construction and it was decorated in part with Venetian mirrors, &c. In the same enclosure is a small castle attributed to Yesu I. The exterior walls of the castles and palaces named are little damaged and give to Gondar a unique character among African towns. Of the forty-four churches, all in the circular Abyssinian style, which are said to have formerly existed in Gondar or its immediate neighbourhood, Major Powell-Cotton found only one intact in 1900. This church contained some well-executed native paintings of St George and the Dragon, The Last Supper, &c. Among the religious observances of the Christians of Gondar is that of bathing in large crowds in the Gaha on the Feast of the Baptist, and again, though in more orderly fashion, on Christmas day.

See E. Rüppell, Reise in Abyssinien (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1838–1840); T. von Heuglin, Reise nach Abessinien (Jena, 1868); G. Lejean, Voyage en Abyssinie (Paris, 1872); Achille Raffray, Afrique orientale; Abyssinie (Paris, 1876); P. H. G. Powell-Cotton, A Sporting Trip through Abyssinia, chaps. 27-30 (London, 1902); and Boll. Soc. Geog. Italiana for 1909. Views of the castle are given by Heuglin, Raffray and Powell-Cotton.