Ethiopia: Across northeastern Oromia, from Sheikh Hussein to Harar (January 2017)
5. Days 14 to 15: Harar


Return to main Ethiopia January 2017 webpage


Old Harar (Jugal), the main spiritual center of Ethiopia′s Muslim population, is a uniquely fascinating city. Believed to have been founded by Arabian immigrants around the 10th century, it became a crossroads for trade and culture between the Ethiopian highlands, the Afar depression, the shores of the Gulf of Aden, and eastern Africa. It forms a dense maze of narrow streets and alleys enclosed by a 3.4km-long 5m-high fortification wall built in the 16th century against the threats of Christian forces from Ethiopian highlands and increasing migration of the Oromo people. It is said to have the largest density of mosques of any city in the world. It is located on a hilltop at an elevation of 1880m. About 30,000 people live within the walled city.


This was my second visit to Harar. Click here to see photos taken during my 2012 visit. In 2017 I found the streets of Harar slightly less crowded and colorful than in 2012. I was told that this was due to new regulations constraining the activities of street vendors. Despite that Harar still remains a very exciting city to visit.


Aerial view of the walled city. The encircling wall has barely changed shape since the 16th century.


(Source: Google Earth.)


Along the wall.





Women with donkeys carrying sugar cane.




The wall has six main gates built at different time periods. Running in anticlockwise order from Harar gate (a modern gate created under the reign of Haile Selassie to facilitate car access to the central Feres Megala square) are: Showa, Buda, Sanga, Erer, and Fallana gates.


Showa gate.


Buda gate.


Sanga gate.


Erer gate.


Fallana gate.



There are also a few smaller gates that are shortcuts for people to exit/enter the walled city on foot.


Market scenes at Erer gate.






Mekina Girgir.


This street (its name means machine street) is one of the busiest in old Harar, with tailors‛ workshops and men at sewing machines aligned on both sides. In the afternoon, many women (Harari, Oromo, Somali...) dressed in colorful dresses are strolling in this street looking for new clothes.






Other Streets and alleys.


Old Harar is densely populated, but most of its smaller streets and alleys are surprisingly quiet.

















Harar is said to have 90 to 100 mosques. However, none of them is really spectacular. Many are tiny and some are private.


Al-Jami mosque, the largest mosque in old Harar.


Mosque outside Erer gate:


- Minaret.


- Prayer room with its mirhab.


- View over Harar from the top of the minaret (with another mosque on the right).


Mosque near Showa gate.


Mosque near Gidir Magala (main market square).


Egyptian mosque built during the period of Egyptian rule (1875-1884).


Other mosques.






Harari man near a mosque.


Shrines and tombs.


Various shrines and tombs are scattered across the city. (For a photo of the tomb of Emir Nur, the builder of the city wall, click here.)


Tomb of Sheikh Abadir, considered to be the founder of Harar:


- Left: entrance of the compound, which consists of Sheikh Abadir‛s tomb, an adjacent cemetery, and the traditional house where descendants of Sheikh Abadir are still living. Right: entrance of the tomb.


- Adjacent cemetery.


- Family house.


House of Sheikh Abadir‛s brother, now a meeting place for Harari people.


Tomb of Jeberti Ismail, a Somali man who came to Harar to study the Coran.


Tomb of Sheikh Ali Hassan.


Tomb of Sheikh Ahmed Ansar. A sycamore tree has grown over it.


Traditional houses of rich families. (To see photos of the the interior of such houses click here.)





Bakery and coffee shop.


Coffee roasting shop.


Morning rush in a butcher shop to grab the best pieces of meat.


Peugeot 404 taxis.


They are hand-me-downs from Djibouti when it was still a French colony. In 2012 they were ubiquitous in Harar. In 2017, there were slightly fewer of them. (These cars were manufactured from 1960 to 1975. Djibouti became independent in 1977.)




The so-called Arthur Rimbaud‛s house. It was built by an Indian merchant on the site of an earlier house where Rimbaud is believed to have lived. This house now hosts a museum.




Links to the various sections of the trip:



1. Days 1 to 3

2. Days 4 to 6

3. Days 7 to 9

4. Days 10 to 13

5. Harar

6. Addis Ababa and around









Return to main Ethiopia January 2017 webpage