Gonder is the best place to arrange treks to the Simien Highlands. It also served as the capital of the imperial empire for 250 years until its central monarchy lost its importance to other regional leaders. Built by Emperor Fasilidas in 1635 , the only still standing castle in Africa that was not erected by Europeans lies within the city’s royal enclosure. Avoid paying the steep £7.50 entrance fee by sneaking in the exit to the enclosure, which isn’t clearly signposted from the outside.
The black-maned Abyssinian lion was an important royal symbol throughout the history of Ethiopia. Lions would’ve been kept in the enclosure for ceremonial purposes and their cages still stand within the grounds.
Fasilidas pool just outside of Gondar town is said to be Fasilidas’ second residence. The pool is the centre stage for the annual Timkat festival in Gondar.
Getting from Gondar to Axum is no walk in the park. You’re required to wake up at 4:30am and sit on a cramped, smelly, bone shaking public bus for 9 hours while it clashes its way along one of the worst roads imaginable. The views are nice, but that’s where the fun ends. The bus will stop a few times so you can buy double deep fried snacks and pay to piss into a filthy hole in the ground, in the meantime you just have to make do with a bus load of coughing and travel sick Ethiopians. Desperate times call for desperate measures…
Axum is the place where the roots of modern Ethiopia lie. Not too much is known about the Axumite empire, but they say that it was one of the big players in world trade between the 1st and 7th centuries AD. For a city with such a high caliber, I expected its sights to be a lot more impressive or interesting. The main attraction is the stelae field, their main purpose has little scholarly basis but it’s presumed they were erected to accredit numerous kings and other important figures within the Axumite empire.
The largest standing stelae at 23 metres high belongs to King Ezana. The standing of the obelisk is one of mankind’s great mysteries, but local legend believes that it was the work of the mysterious powers of the Ark of the Covenant situated over the road, which by the way you have to pay £7.50 to look a building from the outside which apparently holds the Tabot aka the original 10 commandments, great value for money. A more realistic idea of how the stelae was erected is that they were fetched 25km after being cut from a quarry and howked up using a few elephants and a lot of man power. The largest of Axum’s stelae, which would’ve being 33m high toppled over whilst it was being erected and has lay there shattered into pieces for the last 2000 years. If this was caught on camera it would be great footage to send into you’ve been framed.
There’s a few tombs in the area, then some more stelae, then tombs, then stelae, stelae, and more stelae, yeah I’m finding it hard to get exited looking a load of knob shaped rocks. There’s an OK modern looking church that is strangely decorated with wacky comic book strip paintings. In my opinion Axum extremely boring and I’m quite disappointed considering the hype surrounding it. Most Ethiopians I’d asked about the city said that Axum is nice good place (sic). It is nice, if you like admiring droves of French tourists.
There’s another tall story around the corner about a dirty reservoir that was apparently created 3000 years ago for the Queen of Sheba to bathe in. You can even sit on the very rock where she unrobed to take a dip!
Tired of looking a rocks and hearing tales with very little credibility, I was on the first bus out of Axum the next day. For some reason Ethiopians can’t seem to handle travelling and yet again the bus was full of people being violently sick. I guess the sick thing is something I’ll have to get used to, I must admit though that there seems to be a certain authentic charm about rolling over the Tigraian countryside in a minibus covered in regurgitated injera.