Gondar Castle is not just one castle, but the name for an entire complex of palaces and castles in Gondar, Ethiopia. Known by the locals and the guide books as the Royal Enclosure, it is very near the center of town and easily located on foot or by tuk-tuk. This was one of the most interesting and intact sights we visited while in Ethiopia, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The entire complex takes up some 70,000 sqm, dates back to the 17th century and is often referred to by historians as the Camelot of Ethiopia. Upon entering the complex and purchasing your ticket, you will be immediately approached by a person from the local tour guide association, choosing to have a guide is optional so don’t feel pressured to hire one.
The first building you’ll see on your right will be Fasil Gemb or Fasilides’ Palace. The most impressive building in the complex by far. Designed by an Indian architect and noted for its many blendings of Indian, Portuguese and Moorish influences. This is where Emperor Fasilides broke the standard tradition of the day and picked one location from which to have his residence, and thus founded and claimed the city of Gondar as his capital. He surrounded his palace with a wall that contained twelve gates, and inside that wall is what is known as the royal enclosure today. Explore the dining halls, reception area, and prayer room while in Fasilides’ Palace; also keep an eye out for the Star of David reliefs.
After you have finished with Fasilides’ Palace, the kitchen and steam bath buildings, look for the remains of the Palace of Iyasu I. Mostly a shell, it is still interesting to walk among the ruins and imagine what once was. From here we headed past the Library that has since been plastered over by the Italians, which was closed, to Fasilides’ Archive. Only the tower and walls remain from the archive, but you can climb the stairs and get a peek of the grounds from a higher elevation.
Earthquakes and wars have taken their tolls on the Royal Enclosure, and as we winded our way to the remaining buildings in the north there was less and less to see. You can still get a semblance of an idea of the long Banqueting Hall, Mentewab’s Castle, and the Lion Houses. The buildings in the north just don’t have the same substance or explorable area as the ones in the south, so it feels like you just brush over them.
Know Before You Go:
- They only accept cash for tickets
- Bring a bottle of water as there is no place to purchase one inside
- The official guides can only be obtained from inside the enclosure. That being said hiring a guide is not mandatory.
- The complex has one entrance and one exit. The entrance is located near the southernmost point of the complex (farthest from the town center) and the exit to the north, creating an intentional flow of traffic.
- The Royal Enclosure is open daily from 8:30-12:30 and then again from 13:30-18:00. I would not bet the farm on the facility keeping these hours precisely, give yourself some leeway on your visit that should only take about two hours.
3 out of 5 Travelationship High Fives. If you like adventure, history or bucket lister type travel, you will like Gondar Castle.
While it is pretty amazing to find a castle in Africa and this is one of the most intact sites we came across in Ethiopia, it was missing the wow factor of many of the other castles we have visited. Most structures were either gutted or closed. Almost no signs in any language.