The graceful city of Gondar, embraced with incredibility, was founded by Emperor Fasilidas around 1635. It is famous for its many medieval castles, (constructed in the European middle age architectural style), and the design and decoration of its churches.
An extensive compound, near Gondar’s center contains the massive ruins of a group of imposing castles like some African Camelot. The battlements and towers evoke images of gracious knights on horseback and of ceremonies laden with spectacle and honor.
The oldest and most impressive of Gondar’s many imperial structures is the palace of Emperor Fasilidas, said to have been built by an Indian architect. There are also numerous other fascinating historical buildings and relics to be seen in the area.
Debre Berhan Selassie, in particular, represents a masterpiece of the Gondarene School of art. This finest Gondarene church was built during the reign of Emperor Iyasu ( 1682-1706), and was never destroyed. It is said that when the Dervishes tried to burn it in 1881, they were attacked and dispersed by bees. The church is rectangular, similar to those of ancient Axumite architecture. The inside walls of the front room are covered with paintings on cloth, glued to the surface. The ceiling is built with thick beams and it decorated with winged angel heads looking down. The wall paintings depict scenes from the life of Christ, Mary, the Saints, the Trinity, and others. The unique murals are awesome and have stood the test of time for centuries.
Flanked by twin mountain streams at an altitude of more than 2,300 meters, Gondar commands spectacular views over farmlands to the gleaming waters of Lake Tana. The city retains an atmosphere of antique charm mingled with an impression of mystery and violence.
Gondar was once a vigorous and vital center of religious learning and art. For more than two hundred years skilled instruction in painting, music, dance, poetry and many other disciplines thrived. Fasilidas and his successors saw their elegant capital as a phoenix and so patronized the arts.
The treasures of Gondar include the stone bathhouse of Emperor Fasiladas and the ruined Palace of Kusquam.
The castles display a richness in architecture that reveals the influence of Arabia as well as Axumite traditions, and are said to be the largest concentration of such structures in Africa.