The ancient walled city of Harar Ethiopia

  

The ancient walled city of Harar Ethiopia

Known as Africa's Mecca, Harar is home to 82 mosques, and some of them date back to the 10th century, and 102 shrines, with the interior design of the townhouses reflecting the splendour of city's heritage. According to locals, the area's inhabitants accepted Islam eight years prior to people in the holy Muslim city of Medina in the Arabian peninsula. Although this vision is not shared by the rest of the Muslim world, some Ethiopians consider the city to be Islam's fourth holiest city after Mecca, Jerusalem and Medina. Accordingly, followers of the Prophet Muhammad fled the persecution in Mecca around AD and found refuge in the Kingdom of Axum, a territory that today comprises Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Upon its alleged foundation by Arabian immigrants around the 10th century, Harar became a crossroads for trade and culture thanks to its convenient location between the Ethiopian highlands to the west and the shores of the Gulf of Aden to the east. The evolution of the city continued until it became a center of Islamic scholarship and culture to the point that eventually it was considered a sort of capital city of Islamic northeast Africa.
The city's fortified walls date back to the 16th century when Emir Nur ibn al-wazir Mujahid became Harar's ruler and then fortified the city against the threats of Christian forces from Ethiopia, increasing migration of the Oromo people.
Harar is also a city of contrasts. Although it is famously named as the “City of Saints”, it also boasts the country's best beer, strongest khat - a narcotic plant - and highest quality coffee, catering to every kind of traveller. Listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2006, Harar boasts unique and exceptional architecture that perfectly reflects its inhabitants' traditions, where the African and Islamic cultures meet. Unesco praised the city as a “rare example of a relatively well-preserved historic town that has retained its traditions, urban fabric, and rich Harari Muslim cultural heritage to the present time.”
Today, Harar stands as a beacon of culture and conservation within the African continent. The confluence of the African and Islamic cultures is reflected on the town's urban layout, which is a maze of alleyways, and characteristic and yet buildings.
According to Unesco's official website, “The historic town of Harar Jugol exhibits an important interchange of values of original Islamic culture, expressed in the social and cultural development of the city enclosed within the otherwise Christian region. Such influences have been merged with traditions that relate to the inland of Africa and particularly to southern Ethiopia, giving a particular characteristic form to its architecture and urban plan.”
“Harar Jugol bears exceptional testimony to cultural traditions related to Islamic and African roots. It is considered ‘the fourth holy city' of Islam, having been developed by a holy missionary from the Arabic Peninsula. Though a trading place and thus a melting pot of various influences, Harar has been in relative isolation in its region, contributing to a cultural specificity, expressed in its characteristic community structure and traditions, which are still alive.”
Another criterion was as follows: “Harar Jugol is an outstanding example of a type of architectural and urban ensemble which illustrates the impact of African and Islamic traditions on the development of specific building types. The building types and the entire urban layout reflect these traditions, which give a particular character and even uniqueness to Harar Jugol.”
And the last criterion is: “Harar Jugol with its surrounding landscape is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, representative of cultural interaction with the environment. The social and spatial structure (afocha) and the language of the people all reflect a particular and even unique relationship that there developed with the environment. The cultural and physical relationships with the territory have survived till today, but they are also vulnerable to irreversible change under the impact of the modern globalizing world.”
Another distinctive trait of the city's heritage is the daily hyena feeding spectacle.Hyenas are beloved night visitors in Harar, where they are even fed by “hyena men.” The welcoming gesture towards hyenas is such that the city's fortified walls, which were built between the 13th and 16th centuries, even have small holes in them to facilitate hyenas' passage into the city.

 

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