The eastern part of Ethiopia, close to Djibouti and Somalia, is a region inhabited mainly by Muslims. The ancient walled city of Harar has more than 90 mosques and shrines mixed in with households behind its sixteenth century walls. This city was founded over 1000 years ago, and is considered to be one of the holiest centers of Muslim learning in the Islamic world. Harar, which is not too large to be visited on foot, is a place of unique and unforgettable charm and has much to offer to the discerning tourist. Walking down its narrow, cobble stoned and twisting lanes, one can easily feel transported back in time to the days of Richard Burton – or even earlier when Amir Nur constructed the city’s stout old walls.
Background History: From the base of Harar city, the strong Emir of Harar in the 1500s, Ahmed Gragn, rebelled against the domination of the highland Christian empire of Ethiopia to the west. Ahmed Gragn was defeated by the Christian ruler of the day, Emperor Gelawdeos, with the help of the Portuguese. In the vacuum left by the devastating battle between Harar and Christian Ethiopia, the fierce Oromo warriors advanced from the south, occupying much of central and northern Ethiopia, and up to the gates of Harar. Although the city withstood the assaults because of its reinforced walls, this independent trading city of Harar was left surrounded by an Oromo countryside.
In the late nineteenth century, after a 10 year spell of Egyptian rule, the city state was conquered by the return of the Christian Empire of the highlands under the Emperor Menelik. The forces of Menelik were led by his cousin RasMekonen, the father of the late Emperor Haile Selassie. Haile Selassie was therefore born and raised in the Harar vicinity, and always considered his original home.
Harar today, with its atmosphere of history and past glory amidst the ebb and flow of conquering armies, and its ethnically diverse population, is thus a fascinating stopping place for the traveler.