Fasil Ghebbi

UNESCO World Heritage Site
Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar Region
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List

Fasilides' castle

Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iii
Reference 19
UNESCO region Africa
Inscription history
Inscription 1979 (3rd Session)
Location of Fasil Ghebbi in Ethiopia.

Fasil Ghebbi (Royal Enclosure) is the remains of a fortress-city within Gondar, Ethiopia. It was founded in the 17th and 18th centuries by Emperor Fasilides (Fasil) and was the home of Ethiopia's emperors. Its unique architecture shows diverse influences including Nubian styles. The site was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Ghebbi is an Amharic word for a compound or enclosure.[1]

The complex of buildings includes Fasilides' castle, Iyasu I's palace, Dawit III's Hall, a banqueting hall, stables, Empress Mentewab's castle, a chancellery, library and three churches: Asasame Qeddus Mikael, Elfign Giyorgis and Gemjabet Mariyam.


The origins of the Fasil Ghebbi can be found in the old tradition of the Ethiopian emperors to travel around their possessions, living off the produce of the peasants and dwelling in tents. Reflecting this connection, this precinct was frequently referred to as a katama ("camp" or "fortified settlement") or makkababya, the name applied to the imperial camp in the Royal Chronicle of Baeda Maryam.[2]

Emperor Fasilides broke with this tradition of progressing through the territories, and founded the city of Gondar as his capital; its relative permanence makes the city historically important. Within the capital, he commanded the construction of an imposing edifice, the Fasil Gemb or Fasilides castle. The area around the Fasil Gemb was delineated by a wall with numerous gates. Subsequent emperors built their own structures, many of which survive either in whole or part today.[3] Visiting the Fasil Ghebbi in the late 1950s, Thomas Pakenham observed that "dotted among the palaces are what remains of the pavilions and kiosks of the imperial city".[4]


Side entrance to Fasil Gemb

Fasil Ghebbi covers an area of about 70,000 square meters. To its south lies Adababay, the market place of Gondar, where imperial proclamations were made, troops presented, and criminals executed; it is currently a city park.[5]

Dawit's Hall is in the northern part of the enclosure, adjacent to the building attributed to Bakaffa and the church of Asasame Qeddus Mikael. Often referred to as the "House of Song", Munro-Hay notes that this may be due to a misreading of the Amharic zofan bet ("House of the Divan" or "House of the Throne") as zafan bet ("House of Song"). Munro-Hay describes it as a "substantial one-storey building with a round tower at the southeast corner", with traces of a smaller round tower at the northeast corner and traces of a square tower at the northwest corner "most of which has collapsed." The interior of the building is a single long hall, which "the usual arched windows and doorways provided light and access". As of 2002, Dawit's Hall lacks a roof.[6]

Fasil Ghebbi is enclosed by a curtain wall which is pierced by twelve gates. These are, in counter-clockwise order: Fit Ber (also called Jan Tekle Ber) opening onto Adababay; Wember Ber (Gate of the Judges); Tazkaro Ber (Gate of Funeral Commemoration), which had a bridge destroyed by fighting during the reign of Iyasu II; Azaj Tequre Ber (Gate of Azaj Tequre), which once was connected by a bridge to Adababay Tekle Haymanot church; Adenager Ber (Gate of the Spinners), which was linked by a bridge to Qeddus Rafael church in the weaver's section of Gondar; Qwali Ber (Gate of the Queen's Attendants), next to the modern entrance to Elfin Giyorgis church inside the Enclosure; Imbilta Ber (Gate of the Musicians); Elfign Ber (Gate of the Privy Chamber), which gave access to the private apartments of the Fasil Ghebbi; Balderas Ber (Gate of the Commander of the Cavalry); Ras Ber (Gate of the Ras), also known as Qwarenyoch Ber (Gate of the Qwara people); Ergeb Ber (Gate of Pigeons), also known as Kechin Ashawa Ber (Gate of the Gifts); Inqoye Ber (Gate of Princess Inqoye, the mother of Empress Mentewab; and Gimjabet Mariyam Ber (Gate of the Treasury of Mary), which leads to the churchyard of Gimjabet Mariyam church.[7]


  1. Appleyard, David (2013). Colloquial Amharic (2nd ed.). Routledge.
  2. Munro-Hay, Ethiopia, the unknown land: a cultural and historical guide (London: I.B. Tauris, 2002), p. 118
  3. Richard Pankhurst, The Ethiopians: A History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), pp. 109f
  4. Pakenham, The Mountains of Rasselas (New York: Reynal & Co., 1959), p. 42
  5. Munro-Hay, Ethiopia, pp. 114f
  6. Munro-Hay, Ethiopia, pp. 126-128
  7. Munro-Hay, Ethiopia, pp. 118-120

See also

External links

Coordinates: 12°36′29″N 37°28′11″E / 12.60806°N 37.46972°E / 12.60806; 37.46972

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