Suitcase and World: Exploring Gondar.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Exploring Gondar.

Angels painted on the ceiling of Debre Birhan Selassie church.

Bellies full and senses refreshed, we spent the rest of the afternoon sightseeing. Our first destination was Debre Birhan Selassie church. Considered by many to be the most iconic and most beautiful of all of Ethiopia's churches, Debre Birhan Selassie was built by Emperor Iyasu II in the 17th Century.  Thanks to Google Images, I know it as the church with the gorgeous mural of angels on the ceiling and I'm excited to be able to see the mural in person.

It was short drive to reach Debre Birhan Selassie.  Distance wise, we probably could've walked but it would have been on dusty, unpaved roads and time was also of the essence - it's nearing mid afternoon.

The driver dropped us off outside the entrance and Haile led the way.

We stepped through the door to enter into a small courtyard.  A small church stood at the other end. 

The exterior of the church was as modest and plain as the entrance.

The church complex was surrounded by a wall that had 12 towers, representing the 12 apostles, built into it.

The church has a separate bell tower but I found this cute bell, hanging from a tree limb.

A carved cross embedded into the stone wall.

The roof topper has 7 ostrich eggs.  The number 7 holds some sort of a religious significance.

From the grassy courtyard, we walked up the steps to enter the church.  We had to take our shoes off which I did as quickly as I could so I head inside.  I knew exactly what awaited me.  Immediately, I looked up at t the ceiling and gasped in awe.  The entire interior of the church is painted!

Gorgeous, colorful and so charming!

The walls depict biblical scenes and saints. 

At the front, a drape covered the door to where the church's copy of the Ark of the Covenant is housed.  Icons of the Holy Trinity (three identical men with halos) and Christ on the cross are painted above the door.

See a snippet of the church's stunning interior.

The church has other rooms but this was the only one open to the public and it's a small room.  Just around the time that my neck started to get tired from looking up, Haile began to explain a few of the paintings to us and then also gave us an explanation of the drum, a liturgical instrument in Ethiopia.  Everything in an Ethiopian has significance, even the color of the fabric on the drum - red to represent the blood of Christ.  He then also went on to explain the significant aspects of the staff that the monks and nuns use e.g. the topper represents the horns of a goat and the senasel e.g., that the wires represent Jacob's ladder.

One last look at the interior of the church before leaving.

Back outside, I explored the church's courtyard area.

The entrance to the church complex is in the background and to the right is the door leading to the church's interior.  Typical of Ethiopian churches, the interior of the roof is lined with what I can only describe as wood from saplings.

The entrance to the church.  Supposedly, it is shaped to look like the head of a lion, more specifically the Lion of Judah.

At the far end of the church's grounds sits a small stone archway.  Above is a curlicue that represents the tail of the lion.

From the church, we drove to our next and final sightseeing destination for the day, the Fasil Ghebbi palace compound.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the fortress-city of Fasil Ghebbi was the residence of Emperor Fasilidas, founder of the city of Gondar and his successors. Surrounded by a 900 meter (2,953 feet) long wall, the compound includes the ruins of:  the Castle of Emperor Fasilidas, the Castle of Emperor Iyasu II, the Library (Archives) of Tzadich Yohannes; the Chancellery of Tzadich Yohannes; the Castle of Emperor David, the Palace of Mentuab and the Banqueting Hall of the Emperor Bekaffa. Standing inside the compound, I felt like I was looking at the ruins of castles in Europe.  Later I learnt that the design of the buildings bear Hindu and Arabic influences and that several were later transformed to Baroque style by Jesuit missionaries.

 After we walked around with Haile, we were done for the day.  It was too nice a day to stay indoors so Robert, Marianne, Gale, Carol, and I opted to hang back and spend more time in the compound. Haile gave us walking directions back to the hotel.  The five of us agreed to meet back by the entrance in about half hour's time.  Somehow, we got split into two groups - Gale, Carol and I were together and we lost track of time.  Apparently, the other two waited for us to rejoin them but when we didn't show up after a reasonable amount of time, the left.  Eventually, the three of us did finally make it back to the hotel.

The following are a few of the photos and videos that I took during my visit to Fasil Ghebbi.

The Castle of Emperor Fasilidas.

The upper level balcony from which the Emperor would make announcements to his subjects.

Panoramic view of the compound from the entrance.

Walkway leading to the main section of the compound.

Monks resting under the shade of a tree.  It was a beautiful afternoon and the compound was filled with locals enjoying the day.  From the design on their white robes, these look like the same group of monks that we saw at today's Timket procession.

The compound is a popular place for weddings.  On the afternoon we were there, we witnessed a bride and her groom descending the steps from Emperor Fasilidas's castle.  Their families followed behind. The monks were there to greet the happy couple. Everyone was singing and clapping in celebration.  It was a fun  moment!

The Happy Couple!  Loved their outfits!

Luckily, several of the buildings had plaques on them to tell us what we were seeing.  These are images of  the palace of Emperor Iyasu II, another two storey castle.

Iyasu's castle on the left and Fasildas's castle in the middle and Library (Archives) of Tzadich Yohannes on the right.

Okay, I have to admit.  For the most part, I had no idea what ruins were for what buildings.  Early in our walk, Carol, Gale and I crossed paths with a very nice Ethiopian man.  He was the one who told me about the second floor balcony of Emperor Fasilidas's castle.  His fiance was standing nearby. I asked if they wanted me to take a photo of them and she handed me her smartphone.  I snapped a couple of shots of them standing in front of the palace. We then chatted with them.  Both spoke flawless English.  We found out that both of them work for Ethiopian Airlines - she as a flight attendant and he as flight engineer.  Though they live and work in Addis, they had come back to Gondar to celebrate Timket with her family. They were a really sweet couple - we wished them well as we parted ways. 

Emperor David's lion cages.

Carol had her heart set on having a picture taken in front of some steps that had caught her eye.  It took us a while to find the steps   omeone had thrown a pile of twigs in front the steps, presumably to deter people from climbing them.  I moved them aside and she sat down. Unfortunately, the light was shining right at her face which made it difficult to take pictures. Gale took several photos using Carol's camera and I took a few using my camera.  None came out as we all had hoped so we had Carol move to another location where the lighting was better. 

Not the best photo but Carol was right, it was a nice set of steps.

It was a short walk back to the hotel from Fasil Ghebbi.

Arches are part of the wall that surrounds Fasil Ghebbi.

We may be in the heart of the city but we're obviously in the path of flock of goats heading home for the day :-)

On our way, we happened upon a small group of children playing jump rope.  Of course, we had to watch and cheer them on.  It was fun break for us.  Then, just as we neared the hotel, a group of school girls approached us.  Carol has the softest heart of all of us.  For years, she worked as a teacher and that side of her would come out every now and again.  Though this girl's English was not all that good, Carol was determined to have a conversation with her. She gently asked questions and when the girl did not know how to answer, she would prod for a reply.  I don't know if the girl appreciated Carol's efforts or not but I most certainly did!

Back in my room, I had another short break. For dinner, we went to the nearby Four Sisters Restaurant. It too was a tourist class buffet meal but it was definitely a few steps above anything we had had to date. Good meal!

Tomorrow, we have a road trip to the Simien Mountains.  Gelada Baboons, here we come!

Goodnight from Gondar!