The Walled City of Harar

Long been regarded by foreigners as a city of mystery and romance, Harar is a city of mosques, minarets, and markets, which still even has its own unique language! Situated on a high escarpment overlooking surrounding plains, which extend as far as the eye can reach, Harar enjoys both a balmy climate and a fascinating history.

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The well-maintained roads from Dire Dawa to Harar, provide a delightful journey with numerous panoramic views during the drive up the winding road from the torrid lowlands to the cool Harari highlands. You will witness sheer walls of naked rock, lofty slopes wooded to the summit with acacia, eucalyptus, and various types of cactus, as well as descents into deep ravines!

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Before entering the city, you have to pass through its famous 3,300m encircling wall, locally known as the “Jogal”. This structure was erected in the 16th century and is made of locally quarried stone, held together with mud, and reinforced with stout juniper planks. The walls of Harar were pierced in early times by five gates, a number supposed to symbolise the Five Pillars of Islam. These gates were situated respectively to the north, east, south-east, south, and west of the city. Each had its own distinctive name, and provided entry to caravans travelling to and from different stretches of the surrounding country.

Though most of the men of Harar now wear modern clothes, many of the women still dress in traditional costume made of colourful silk. Over this, Harari women will also gracefully drape a shawl, perhaps of orange or black, and often decorated with gold.

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Harar, which is not too large to be inspected on foot, is a place of unique and unforgettable charm, and has much to offer the discerning tourist. Walking down its narrow, cobble-stoned and twisting lanes one can easily feel transported back in time to the days when the city’s stout old walls were still being constructed. Though Harar is essentially a Muslim town, it also boasts a fine Christian Church, the Church of Medhanie Alem, or “Saviour of the World”.

In the evening, you can visit the cities infamous “Hyena-Man”, who can be seen summoning some of the many hyenas who live, as in the olden days, outside the city walls. There are also numerous well-stocked shops selling the beautiful, finely woven baskets for which the city is famous. Harar’s two museums provide remarkable visual insights into the city’s distinct culture and civilisation. The many historical exhibits include old coinage, and the clothes and pistol of the Harar patriot Dejazmach Teferra. In the Harar Cultural Museum, you can not only see fabulous jewellery, manuscripts, and baskets, but you can also sip the quti – with or without salt!

The holy city of Harar in the East
The holy city of Harar in the East

The historical importance of Harar, its unique buildings, its great encircling wall, and its well fashioned gates, received international recognition in 1989 when they were listed by UNESCO as part of the cultural heritage, not only of the city and of Ethiopia, but of humanity as a whole.

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