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Published: November 19th 2012
3rd Nov ’12 Bahar Dar to Gondar
Today’s journey was by road to Ethiopia’s former ancient Imperial capital of Gondar. One of the highlights of the trip for me was the stop we made on the way at the little town of Woreta. It was market day and a never ending stream of people were making their way up and down the stony rough road to it.
Howard and I joined the throng of men, women, children, sheep, donkeys and goats with flapping ears heading up the hillside road. We chatted to a student from the local church who introduced us to various people, we past ladies with crosses tattooed on their foreheads and round their throats who stopped to smile and return our greetings when we called out salem nesh. Lots of children smiled and called out Faranji hello as we walked along and when we waved and said salem they decided to accompany us. Lots of them practised their English on us, asking questions and telling us their names – they were gorgeous! They wanted their pictures taken and to shake hands and then a group of young dudes wanted their pictures taken as well.
children were soon holding our hands, examining my tattoo and had us all laughing. In the end we ran out of time so never got to the actual market but made our way back down the hill accompanied by the children. One little girl called Nia Faletta held my hand the whole way and kept testing me on how to pronounce her name, another one introduced me to her mother and then a man asked me if I wanted babies – I’m not sure if it was a proposition or a statement but it had everyone in fits of laughter!
By the time we got back down to the café where the group was meeting up Howard said he felt like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters with all the little people holding his hands and leading him along! As we left them all the kids were shouting bye bye and waving before running off laughing back up the street.
The staff in the café were lovely too and one young waitress gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. What a wonderful place Woreta is, I was bowled over by the people and really touched by
the whole experience!!
Back on the road again and we passed streams of people swathed in white cloth, the men with white turbans, all carrying tall staffs, walking to and from the town. Further on we stopped at the Devil’s Nose – a large rock formation for a break and were quickly surrounded by children and women all calling out for Sue who had lots of photos to give out which she had taken on her last trip through. It’s amazing the pleasure those photos bring!
So after admiring the view and the photos we were off again.
Another brief stop for a picture as the first of the Gondar castles ( Guzara Castle) appeared on the top of a hill – wow! It seemed really strange to see a castle suddenly appear in the middle of all this stunning scenery.
So we pulled into the small town of Gondar with its higgledy piggledy houses, churches and streets and drove up to our hotel perched on the top of the hill with great views over the town and its castles.
The castles are all in a large area known as the Royal Enclosure and were
built in the 17th century, the first one Fasilidas Palace was built when the Emperor made Gondar his capital in 1636. When subsequent emperors came to power they each built their own castles just a few yards away from each other! The castles are unique to Gondar and there isn’t anything like them anywhere else in Africa.
The castles were great, big impressive structures with turrets, crenellations and wooden balconies and wouldn’t have looked out of place in England. There was nothing left inside them but the buildings were well preserved and our guide was good at explaining what rooms were used for and what would have been in them. They must have been a sumptuous sight back in the day!
Even the rain (yes it does rain!!) added to the atmosphere. The Royal Enclosure also seems to be the local courting grounds, with lots of university students hanging about in groups texting and eyeing each other up.
After seeing the castles we visited the Debre Selassie Church which is one of the most famous churches in Ethopia. It dates from the late 1870s. To enter it you have to take your shoes off (as in all
of the Ethiopian Christian Orthodox churches) and women must cover their heads (not normal practise and the women must not enter if they are menstruating or have slept with men the night before isn’t either). Men could go in through the front door but women had to use the side one.
It’s quite a small church but fantastically decorated with bright colourful religious paintings, there is even a controversial picture of the prophet Mohamed sitting on a camel being led by a devil! But it is the ceiling which is the most incredible sight, it is completely covered with winged angel faces – apparently there are 80 of them and no two have the same expression!
We ended the day with a visit to the Pavilion of Delight, which is a bathing pool complex built by King Fasilidas. Surrounding the pool are walls covered by Tomb Raider style tree trunks and roots. There is terraced seating on two sides and this is used during the festival of Timkat, when the bath (pool) is filled again by the river, the waters blessed by the priest and then everyone jumps in! This is replicating Jesus’s baptism in the river Jordan
and hundreds of people take part.
Wow another great day!!
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