As readers of my earlier posts will know, last fall I traveled to the fascinating country of Ethiopia. While the main purpose of my trip was to visit the tribes of the Omo Valley located in the southern part of Ethiopia, before coming back home I went up north (and east) with my friend Dimitra in a whirlwind tour of three lovely Ethiopian cities, Lalibela, Gonder and Harar. I clearly did not spend as much time in any one of these places as I would have liked, as each one of these towns is special. So although I can’t do them justice, I thought I would still share a few of the images I got during my short visits. As usual, although I make a point of visiting the main sites, my camera mostly seems interested in people.
Lalibela is justly famous for its churches carved below ground in the existing rock. Believed to have been built around the 13th century, these rock-hewn churches are an extraordinary sight and furthermore they are living monuments, as they are still actively used. Of the eleven Lalibela’s churches, Bet Giyorgis (St-Georges) carved in the symmetrical shape of a Greek cross, is the most majestic. Most visitors go to Lalibela during the Ethiopian Christmas or Epiphany as pilgrims from all over the country gather there to worship. As I was there in the fall, I did not see hordes of pilgrims (I hope to go back for one of these celebrations), but I met numerous priests (over 10% of the small population of Lalibela are priests) happy to display their processional crosses. As a town, Lalibela feels quite small and underdeveloped given the notoriety of the churches. The surroundings, however, are breathtaking. A two-hour drive through the countryside to visit the Yemrehanna Kristos church, took us through beautiful fields of multiple colors surrounded by rocky hills. As you will see, the Yemrehanna Kristos church is quite different from the Lalibela ones. It has been built within a large cave and it has intriguing layers of black (wood) and white (granite). Before leaving Lalibela to go to Gonder, we visited a school located in the middle of town where children kindly sang a few songs for us. What a treat!
Gonder (Gondar) is a much larger city, the fourth largest city in Ethiopia with a population thought to exceed 200,000. Although Gonder proudly features a stunning 17th-century castle, it is a small meticulously decorated church that steals your heart. The Debre Birhan Selassie Church’s walls are painted with numerous separate religious scenes and its ceiling is covered with cherubins seemingly looking down at you. As we were in Gonder during a market day, the remainder of our time there was spent enjoying the local market, particularly the spice merchants.
Although the population of Lalibela and Gonder are predominantly Christian, Muslims are the majority in the eastern city of Harar. But thankfully, Christians and Muslims seem to share the city peacefully, a fact that Hararis are very proud of. Harar is an old-walled city that begs for exploration. Within the walls, the old city is a web of narrow alleys, full of historic buildings, including many small mosques, a house where the French poet Rimbaud is said to have lived and a museum. As you will see, what attracted my lens was the fact that the city walls are painted in many different hues and are a vibrant part of the community. Lots of people are sitting in front of them, selling produce or other goods, working, cooking the family meals, or simply consuming khat (chat), a plant stimulant that is legal in Ethiopia and very popular in the Harar area. Finally, as I like to do in most of the cities I am lucky enough to travel to, we visited a school in the center of town. There we interacted with many beautiful children, and some of them had the biggest eyes I have ever seen.
I will be back.