Ethiopia today is one of the poorest countries in the world, but there was a time it was one of the wealthiest. There was a time when the capital city of Gonder with its high stone walls and castles was as famous as New York or London today.
A visit to Gonder is a walk back in time filled with regal banquets and pageantry. So impressed with the castles, that I returned three times to soak up the gallant past.
First of all, we almost never think of 16th century castles when we our minds picture Africa. Walking through the majestic castles, some as tall as 105 feet, leaves no room for doubt that this place is special.
I was lucky enough to be invited by a group of Swiss architect students to join their tour. They had an excellent guide.
Being a fan of Lord of the Rings, I asked the guide what was the meaning for the word Gonder.
“According to legend, King Fasilidas was out hunting for a lion, he shot it, but couldn't find the lion, so he made camp and went to sleep. A local man found the lion, and the next day approached the king and asked him if he was looking for a lion and that he knew where it was. The king replied yes, and asked where he could find the lion, and the villager said, you are sleeping right next to the lion, which is the meaning of Gonder, sleeping next to the lion.”
After the tour I took a mini bus to explore Fasilidas's bath, a sunken bathing pool. In the center of the large pool is a large two-story building that supposedly was the king's second residence. It was quiet and empty of water and people, I sat in the shade of a tree at the edge of the pool and soaked up a moment of being completely alone and imagined royalty splashing in clean clear cool waters.
Later in the day, I worked my way back to the Royal Enclosure and sat on the green grass to watch the colors change against the walls of the six castles that stand inside the complex. It was peaceful and royal. I sat there and wondered how a country so rich and royal could end up to where it is today. It was a reminder that just because a place is wealthy and powerful once, doesn't mean it will be always. It begs the question what lessons can be learned from here?
As I leave the royal complex, a beggar comes up to me and says; “you, you, give me money” and so quickly the royal feelings fade away.
I walked to the bus station to buy my ticket for the next day. My destination is a town called Shire. And I begin to wonder if another author once passed through these parts.