Gondar or Gonder (Ge'ez: ጎንደር Gōnder, older ጐንደር Gʷandar, modern pronunciation Gʷender) is a city in Ethiopia, which was once the old imperial capital and capital of the historic Begemder province. As a result, the old province of Begemder is sometimes referred to as Gondar. Located in the Semien Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region, Gondar is north of Lake Tana on the Lesser Angereb River and southwest of the Simien Mountains. The city has a latitude and longitude of with an elevation of 2133 meters above sea level.
Based on figures from the Central Statistical Agency in 2005, Gondar has an estimated total population of 194,773 of whom 97,625 were males and 97,148 were females. The woreda has an estimated area of 40.27 square kilometers, which gives Gondar a density of 4,836.70 people per square kilometer. The 1994 census reported this city had a total population of 112,249 of whom 51,366 were males and 60,883 were females.
Beginning with Emperor Minas in 1559, the rulers of Ethiopia began spending the rainy season near Lake Tana, often returning to the same location again and again. These encampments, which flourished as cities for a short time, include Emfraz, Ayba, Gorgora, and Dankaz.
Gondar was founded by Emperor Fasilides around the year 1635, and grew as an agricultural and market town. There was a superstition at the time that the capital's name should begin with the letter 'Gʷa' (modern pronunciation 'Gʷe'; Gonder was originally spelt Gʷandar), which also contributed to Gorgora's (founded as Gʷargʷara) growth in the centuries after 1600. Tradition also states that a buffalo led the Emperor Fasilides to a pool beside the Angereb, where an "old and venerable hermit" told the Emperor he would locate his capital there. Fasilides had the pool filled in and built his castle on that same site. The emperor also built a total of seven churches; the first two, Fit Mikael and Fit Abbo, were built to end local epidemics. The five emperors who followed him also built their palaces in the town.
In 1668, as a result of a church council, the Emperor Yohannes I ordered that the inhabitants of Gondar be segregated by religion. This caused the Muslims to move into their own quarter, Islamge (Ge'ez: እስላምጌ "Islam place," or "Islam country") or Islam Bet (እስላም ቤት "House of Islam," lit. "Islam house"), within two years. This quarter came to be known as Addis Alem.
During the seventeenth century, the city's population is estimated to have exceeded 60,000 and was the second largest city in the world. In 1678, the visiting Armenian bishop Hovannes remarked that the city was "twice as big as Istanbul". Many of the buildings from this period survive, despite the turmoil of the eighteenth century. By the reign of Iyasu the Great, Gondar had acquired a sense of community identity; when the Emperor called upon the inhabitants to decamp and follow him on his campaign against the Oromo in Damot and Gojjam, as had the court and subjects of earlier emperors, they refused. Although Gondar was by any definition a city, it was not a melting pot of diverse traditions, nor Ethiopia's window to the larger world, according to Donald Levine. "It served rather as an agent for the quickened development of the Amhara's own culture. And thus it became a focus of national pride... not as a hotbed of alien custom and immorality, as they often regard Addis Ababa today, but as the most perfect embodiment of their traditional values. As Levine elaborates in a footnote, it was an orthogenetic pattern of development, as distinguished from an heterogenetic one.
The town served as Ethiopia's capital until Tewodros II moved the Imperial capital to Magadala upon being crowned Emperor in 1855; the city was plundered and burnt in 1864, then devastated again in December, 1866. Abdallahi ibn Muhammad sacked Gondar when he invaded Ethiopia June 1887. Gondar was ravaged again in 23 January in the next year, when the Sudanese invaders set fire to almost every one of the city's churches.
After the conquest of Ethiopia by the Kingdom of Italy in 1936, Gondar was further developed under Italian occupation. During the Second World War, Italian forces made their last stand in Gondar in November 1941, after Addis Ababa fell to British forces six months before. The area of Gondar was one of the main centers of activity of Italian guerrilla against the British forces until summer 1943.
During the Ethiopian Civil War, the forces of the Ethiopian Democratic Union gained control of large parts of Begemder, and during parts of 1977 operated within a few miles of Gondar, and appeared to be at the point of capturing the city. As part of Operation Tewodros near the end of the Civil War, Gondar was captured by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front in March 1991.
The modern city of Gondar is popular as a tourist attraction for its many picturesque ruins in the Royal Enclosure, from which the Emperors once reigned. The most famous buildings in the city lie in the Royal Enclosure, which include Fasilides castle, Iyasu's Palace, Dawit's Hall, a banqueting hall, stables, Mentewab's Castle, a chancellery, library and three churches. Near the city lie Fasiladas' Bath, home to an annual ceremony where it is blessed and then opened for bathing; the Qusquam complex, built by Empress Mentewab; the eighteenth century Ras Mikael Sehul's Palace and the Debre Berhan Selassie Church.
Downtown Gondar shows the influence of the Italian occupation of the late 1930s. The main piazza features shops, a cinema, and other public buildings in a simplified Italian Moderne style still distinctively of the period despite later changes and, frequently, neglect. Villas and flats in the nearby quarter that once housed occupation officials and colonists are also of interest.
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