Nestled in the hills to the north of Lake Tana lies the ancient city of Gonder. Emperor Fasilides, the 17th century ruler of Ethiopia made this city the capital of his empire due to its strategic location.
It was on the cross roads of the roads to Aksum and Eritrea to the north, Sudan to the north west and the rest of Ethiopia to the south. The roads up to Gondar are now good thanks to the heavy investment that is occurring in infrastructure throughout the country. So with only a couple of hours in a mini van I was there. The country has been going through a national program of infrastructure development, and judging the amount of D8 dozers, 30 ton diggers and massive graders, the Caterpillar reps must be getting decent Christmas bonuses. Apparently somewhere on the Blue Nile, they are building a massive $80 billion NZD ‘Grand Renaissance Dam’. My tendencies to froth over major infrastructure projects I’m sure was paternally inherited. Maybe I should have been an engineer after all.
If you are interested in African economies, the economist has recently done a series on Africa. Here is the Ethiopian/Kenyan article
I had to track down a slightly more expensive hotel, as I was trying to juggle part time extramural study on aeromedical retrieval and transport, and had a teleconference that next day which required a decent connection. However it did mean I had to listen to Dan Cochrane present for 20 minutes. You’d think by travelling to the other side of the world I could avoid it…
Being at about 2500m, Gondar got significant mention in our trop med course for being the supposed ‘place-to-go’ if you want to see louse borne relapsing fever. This infection by a spirochete bacteria, transmitted through the bite of a body or hair louse occurs in the highlands of Ethiopia in certain seasons due to the cool climate and therefore propensity to use a lot of blankets which spread this vector. Whilst there, I was hoping to catch up with Dr Shitaye, one of our DTM+H classmates who is a local guru at the med school there. She had come to the rescue of the lecturer giving the relapsing fever talk, due to her being vastly more experienced in the field. I popped my head in to the bustling hospital, but unfortunately she was not back from London yet.
The city is best known for its castle complex, known as Fasil Ghebbi. Only a few hundred metres from the central piazza lies the castles. The first and most impressive was built by Fasilides, with each of his successors building another in the compound. Most remain in good condition but there has been some destruction, a good chunk of which occurred when the British shelled it in WWII as it had been taken up as a administrative centre by the Italians. They were built with a range on input, with the interior containing the Star of David, Portuguese and Hindu motifs, indicating different contributions.
Across the city lies an impressive bathing palace with a 2 story building perched in a huge pool, and reachable by drawbridge. The pool is filled once a year for Timket (the epiphany) which after several days of ceremonies, appears to culminate with everyone having a swim.