Ethiopia (April-May 2012): Harar and around

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Panoramic view of the old city of Harar.


Harar was first settled in the early 13th century by Arab religious leaders. But it only became a notable city in 1520 when Sultan Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad made it the new capital of the Adal Sultanate, a Muslim Somali kingdom. The city lies on a hilltop surrounded by a fertile agricultural area most famous for producing coffee, khat, and mangoes. It is the main center of Ethiopia′s Muslim population and some Muslims consider it as the 4th-holiest city in the world. It is also said to have the largest density of mosques of any city in the world. However, most are small, and none has a distinguished architecture. In fact, Harar does not boast any impressive building. Instead, it is a dense and large maze of small, atmospheric streets and alleys enclosed by a 3.4km-long defensive wall. The wall was built in the mid-16th century by the then ruler of Harar, Emir Nur ibn Mujahid. For centuries it has been a major trade center and a meeting point for people from the Horn of Africa, the Arabic peninsula, and South Asia. Today′s Harar consists of two very distinct parts: the old part, also called Jugal, fully contained inside the wall, and the modern part, which sprawls outside the wall on the western side of Jugal. Jugal is the interesting part.


Harar, one of the most fascinating cities of the world, is unique in many ways: visually, ethnically, historically, and culturally. I spent several days strolling the narrow streets of old Harar and watching the amazing flow of people who, every day, converge toward the city from surrounding regions (and sometimes from much further). On separated days I also visited the village of Koremi, located 17km southeast of Harar, and the small town of Babile, 32km east of Harar. Koremi is considered the oldest settlement in this region of Ethiopia (pre-dating Harar) and is famous for its multi-century-old stone houses. Babile is a moderately interesting market town inhabited mostly by Somali people. During this visit I did not focus much on the numerous religious structures (mainly mosques and tombs of holy men), scattered in old Harar. I corrected this mistake in 2017 during a second visit (see here).


Click on the links below to see photos of old Harar (Jugal), Koremi and Babile:

Harar (1/3)

Showa gate, Mekina Girgir, and other market streets

Harar (2/3)

Street maze, traditional Harari house, defensive wall, and hyenas

Harar (3/3)

Koremi and Babile


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