Research Starters: Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian Architecture

Use these topics to jumpstart research!


Obelisk at Aksum (Axum) 300-400 CE

“The ruins of the ancient city of Aksum are found close to Ethiopia’s northern border. They mark the location of the heart of ancient Ethiopia (and Eritrea), when the Kingdom of Aksum was the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. The massive ruins, dating from between the 1st and the 13th century A.D., include monolithic obelisks, giant stelae, royal tombs and the ruins of ancient castles. Long after its political decline in the 10th century, Ethiopian emperors continued to be crowned in Aksum” (


St. George Church

Emperor Lalibela and the 11 medieval churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia

Eleven rock-hewn churches were built during the reign of Emperor Lalibela 1162 – 1221. “The 11 medieval monolithic cave churches of this 13th-century ‘New Jerusalem’ are situated in a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia near a traditional village with circular-shaped dwellings. Lalibela is a high place of Ethiopian Christianity, still today a place of pilgrimage and devotion” (







Fasilides Castle

Emperor Fasilides’ Public and Private Buildings at Gondar, Ethiopia

Emperor Fasilides 20 November 1603 – 18 October 1667 was son of Emperor Susenyos I and Empress Seltan Mogasa. “In the 16th and 17th centuries, the fortress-city of Fasil Ghebbi was the residence of Fasilides and his successors. Surrounded by a 900-m-long wall, the city contains palaces, churches, monasteries and unique public and private buildings marked by Hindu and Arab influences, subsequently transformed by the Baroque style brought to Gondar by the Jesuit missionaries” (





Emperor Fasilides Bath at Gondar, Ethiopia

Emperor Fasilides bath compound consists of the bath, a central tower and bridge that’s used when the bath is full. Once a year, on the 19th January, the bath is filled as part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian celebration Epiphany, also known as Timkat.








Empress Mentewab’s Castle, Banquet Hall and Church at Godar, Ethiopia

Empress Mentewab  c. 1706 – 27 June 1773) was the wife of Emperor Bakaffa mother of Emperor Iyasu II. She built several structures in Gondar: a castle, banquet hall and a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. “Mentewab and her son followed a policy of conciliation, and their reign was characterized by relative peace and stability. The empress made appointments to the central government, but the distant provinces were left alone, and acquired greater independence.”




Emperor Bakaffa’s Palace at Gondar

Emperor of Ethiopia from  May 18 1721 to September 19 , 1730, and a member of the Solomonic dynasty. He was a son of Emperor Iyasu I and brother to Emperors Tekle Haymanot I and Dawit III.








The Library of Emperor Yohannes I in Gondar

The Library of Emperor Yohannes I is in the center foreground in this photo of Fasil Ghebbi, the imperial compound at Gondar. Emperor Yohannes I was the fourth son of Emperor Fasilides. Yohannes is believed to have reigned from 1667 to 1682.







Harar Jugol Fortified Town

“The fortified historic town of Harar is located in the eastern part of the country on a plateau with deep gorges surrounded by deserts and savannah. The walls surrounding this sacred Muslim city were built between the 13th and 16th centuries. Harar Jugol, said to be the fourth holiest city of Islam, numbers 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century, and 102 shrines, but the townhouses with their exceptional interior design constitute the most spectacular part of Harar’s cultural heritage. The impact of African and Islamic traditions on the development”







Jamia Mosque in Harar

Also known as Grand Mosque of Harar, the Jamia Mosque is located in the old walled city, the Harar Jugol, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some date the construction to 1216 CE.  Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi, a 16th century iman and general, is buried there.  The mosque was remodeled circa 1650.







Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain