A few months ago, I was in the old and beautiful walled city of Harar, 526km to the east of Addis Ababa. This is a city of wonderful contradictions bordered to the north, south, and east by arid and mostly barren desert.

The city rests on a plateau 1,800 meters above sea level and is enriched by a lush green valley graced with year- round sunny skies.

Harar began its formal existence in 1520 when a local Amir, Abu Beker Mohamed, moved his capital here from the city of Dakar. It is considered by many Muslims to be a notable holy city and center of Islamic learning. It contains over 90 mosques and many consider it to be the fourth holist city of Islam.

Harar is special for its old town within the sturdy wall built between the 13th and 16th centuries. The wall or Jugol, fortified against invaders, is about four meters high and pierced by five gates.

It was built to prevent an expanding Christian empire from advancing on its Muslim way of life, and yet the city is a comfortable home of several different ethnic and religious groups. It was given a ‘United Nations City of Peace Award’ four years ago.

Harari WomanIt is a city with a rich and wonderful history, famous architecture and a friendly people, who really knows how to roll out a red carpet.

Beautiful women carefully garbed with shoulders draped with bright shawls and strolling on the twisted streets carry bundles of cloth or baskets on their heads.

Harar is known for its handicrafts, which include weaving, and basket-making.

Its skilful people are renowned for their basket work and artistic creations from colored fibers and grasses.Colorful Baskets of Harar

It is also famed for the work of its silversmiths who craft beautiful anklets, necklaces, arm bands, silver chains, bangles and earrings out of precious metals.

Harar’s large and bustling markets are firmly established directly outside the entrance gates.

There are two small markets in the walled town, the Christian and the Muslim market.

The latter is quite attractive with its white buildings and colorfully dressed women selling fruit, grains, baskets and other wares.

Arthur Rimbaud's HouseOther special attractions are the house of Arthur Rimbaud (a French poet and arms dealer) and the ancient mosque of Abu Beker.

Rimbaud’s house is a fantastic building which has recently been renovated.

It is a great two-storey affair with plenty of Indian woodwork and art deco wall paper.

It has a wonderful indoor balcony which from the windows you can see in almost every direction over the city.

Exploring the city walking inside through each of the five original gates set into its walls is an ideal way to capture the sense of the mysterious past.

Wandering through the narrow pathways bracketed by high whitewashed walls makes your visit worthwhile. Walk past vendors selling everything from bananas to boots and cookware to flat thin cake of unleavened bread.

Soon you will find yourself in the city’s distinctive narrow cobble-stoned alleyways past belch-white and aqua blue interiors.

Hyena ManOutside the Jugol, one can make a visit to hyena man, one of the city’s most unique attractions.

These men feed dozens of wild hyenas that live in the surrounding hills.

These predators, each called by name, rush forward to snatch their supper from the hands of the hyena men.

You can also feed the hyenas meat from the end of a stick for a small fee and or using your mouths if you are brave enough.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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