Gondar was chosen to be a permanent capital by Emperor Fasilidas in the early 1600s due to its location at the centre of three trading routes. He expelled the Jesuits who had helped the country with the muslim invasions of the 1500s but who also kept pressuring people to convert to Catholicism. Fasilidas started a royal compound with castles influenced by Portuguese architecture. (Our guide said he wanted to build a more impressive building than the Europeans.)
His castle now graces the 50 Birr bill.
Following monarchs built additional castles, administrative buildings, thermal baths, lion cages and more in what is now called Fasil Ghebbi (The Fasilidas Complex or Royal Compound).
Founded by Emperor Iyasu I, who reigned from 1654-1706, Debra Berhan Sellassie church is one of the most iconic churches in the country. Famed for its ceiling of painted cherubs (angels) and fully painted walls. The church itself is shaped like the Ark of Noah, only upside down. The building was originally circular but was rebuilt later in a rectangular style. The thatched roof is modern.
The Gondar Emperors were patrons of the arts and there are two distinct Gondarine styles.
In the 1700s Emperor Bakaffa died and his widow Empress Mentewab (whose crown name means 'how beautiful she is') became regent for their son. She had a castle complex built on a different site, called Qusquam, after a city the Holy Family stopped at on their way to Egypt when Christ was a child. Here’s a photo of the banquet hall ruins. The builders reused some older carved stonework when building it.
Gondar is an interesting city. We stayed at the Goha Hotel which had a wonderful panoramic view. You could even see Fasil Ghebbi from there.