Journey Through Northern Ethiopia: Part Two
(Ezega.com) – For most of us, who grow up in urban parts of Ethiopia, we seem to hold contradictory image about ourselves and our nation. On the one hand there is a pride of history, independence and culture. On the other hand, we are consistently told that our country is extremely poor, hopeless and especially this generation (nobody knows which generation exactly since this has been said for long) has done nothing except abusing the nation. This inconsistent self-image, through time is getting stronger. In fact, we are now at a time when history, heritage and anything the past generations left is considered insignificant for today. The fact that globalization and the economic system has made people to think and worry about what comes next and ridicule what happened yesterday is making urban Ethiopians give less importance to their history.
Practically, most people are starting to claim that history played less role to ease the pain of the present. In some cases it was hard not to agree.
However, visiting the castle of Atse Fasil, I tried to avoid all the heroic histories I know. I wanted to see the palace just as it exists avoiding all the prior information I hold about it. In fact just like any other historical fact in Ethiopia, I was given two opposite views about the Palace of Fasil. The first group, who claimed to have visited the palace, have told me to lower my expectations about it. ‘It is just a bunch of rocks and nothing more. Our fathers exaggerated the issue since they have nothing to show except the rock about their history’ I have heard. The other group was impressed about Fasil and his incredible royal test. Still this group have expressed pessimism saying that Ethiopians did not actually built the palace and the emperor forced prisoner Europeans at the time to build it.
Books also gave me contradictory information about this incredible historical spot. Anyways, all I have tried was to avoid all this and visit the palace to judge it myself for what it is.
In fact, I was hesitant to enter the compound and see the castles I heard so much about. I was afraid that as some people say I might be disappointed. I am one of those people who love to read about Ethiopian history and believe that our ancestors were a people of knowledge and wisdom. I understand many of my generations will call this belief as a fairy-tale. However, I love to hold and protect my conviction that Ethiopia has been a pioneer and has a history that is significant and unique from the rest of the world. Since one of the spots that testify about Ethiopians history is the Fasil Castle, I did not want to take the chance of knowing that it is not as big as it was in my mind.
When I entered the compound of the palace, my senses told me that there is something extra ordinary, something unique and peaceful about the area. Though the palace is found at the centre of Gonder where there are several crowds and activities, when one enters the compound there is a peace and grace that will silence the voices outside. In the beautiful green area, without looking at the castles, it was obvious to me that this place is crucial for who I am today.
When I saw the castle for the first time, it was hard to believe my own eyes. I have seen the castle on TV and pictures several times. However, the first sight of it was exhilarating that closed my doubt about the incredible beauty of the castle.
This complex and amazing sights includes Fasilides castle, Iyasu’s Palace, Dawit’s Hall, a banqueting hall, stables, Mentewab’s Castle, a chancellery, library and three churches: Asasame Qeddus Mikael, Elfin Giyorgis and Gemjabet Mariyam.
It is nearly difficult to believe, four centuries ago, Ethiopia had an emperor with such flawless test and appreciation for architecture. Here, I did not think it matters whether Ethiopians built it or not as some like to argue. The most important issue for me was, when the whole Africa was in the Dark Ages with small huts, Fasil was an emperor with a vision of such elegance and he had implemented it incredibly.
The castle rises thirty two meters and defined the style with its round topped towers, crenelated, ramparts and balconies. It has been registered as the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. It was by early-17th century, the Emperor Fasilides had chosen Gondar as the site for the new capital of his Empire. The castles were built in the late 1640s. Most of its parts still stand gracefully. The architecture is quite diverse, drawing on Islamic, Hindi, and Baroque styling’s, and combining them in an aesthetically pleasing and militarily deft manner.
Fasilides was known for his architecture, erecting no less than seven churches and seven important bridges during his time as Emperor. However, the Fasil Ginbe is considered his most incredible achievement.
Many writings suggest the castle of Fasil in its time was described as greater even than the House of Solomon. It was said to be lavishly decorated with all manner of finery. Gold-leaf adorned the ceilings, as did gemstones of the finest quality. Ivory and fine woodworking covered the inner walls, as did majestic paintings of flora. In the intervening years, however, all of this finery has vanished, moved elsewhere, looted or destroyed by the ravages of time. Iyasu’s Palace, like much of Fasil Ghinb, is now no more than a reflection of its former glory.
Still, the inside of the remaining is amazingly lavish, almost hard to believe that it is 400 years old. The floors, the roofs and the walls are creatively decorated. The doors and the window tells their own story about the amazing Atse Fasil and the rest of the royals who lived there at the time.
Visiting all of this was an eye opener for me. An experience that thought me history is in fact relevant and the pride of our ancestors did come from solid grounds.
Seble Teweldebirhan is Addis Ababa based Reporter for Ezega.com