BootsnAll Travel Network

Harar, Ethiopia: The Walled City, fourth holiest Muslim site.

Harar, capital of the old Harerge province, lies off the southern edge of the Chercher Mountains at an altitude of 1856m. Situated just a few hundred kilometers east of the staunchly Christian Highlands, Harar, like an exotic bird, might have been blown off course – either from across the waters of the Red Sea or from the northern deserts of Muslim North Africa.

For centuries, as a crossroads for every conceivable commerce, the town boomed, great dynasties of rich and powerful merchants grew up and the arts flourished. Harar became a kind of commercial meeting point of Africa, India and the Middle East. Right up until 1850, it was home to the most important market in the Horn.

Harar also spearheaded Islam’s penetrating into the Horn. It still holds very special significance for Ethiopia’s Muslim population. Still something of an exotic bird in a country that prides itself above all on its ancient Christian Heritage, this historic city is perhaps Ethiopia’s most undervalued attraction.

Good info, well then thank the old Lonely Planet guidebook. For me, it was really far away. Really far, and to get there you had to get up really early. I am still traveling under the guise that I don’t want to miss anything of importance. Being the fourth holiest site has to stand for something and I wasn’t going to miss that. Plus, there was the Hyenas and the Hyena men (only two left) who basically still follow the old tradition of man feeding beast. Still, fourteen hours, plus having to be at the bus station at 5am, and to make it all that much worse, there is no way of walking the distance to the bus station that early in the morning so you have to use a taxi. Man, it was tough. Leaving Addis under those conditions took all my mental strength. Originally, I was talked into using the train by Cinderella who also had the same early morning discomforts as I do. The train however became a non-factor when the railroad line that crossed Lake Awash kind of fell into the Lake. So, the next day after confirming that I was up at 4am and on my way to the bus station at 5.

I scored a bit of luck when the taxi driver asked if I were interested in taking a mini-bus as it was much faster, 9-10 hours versus 12-indefinite on the big bus. I still had enough cognitive movement in my brain to know that was a hell of lot better choice than getting trapped on the prison bus for a full day. So at 5:30am we were off.

Not to much to say as we traveled pretty much through the Rift Valley (again). The only difference was that in the hot and hot lowlands, there lied the tribes of the Afar and the Oromo people. These are the nomadic tribal people that live in an area where very few humans could survive. This is also a prime Camel area as witnessed by the huge herds that kept getting in our way.

In Harar, it is basically split into two sections, the walled old city and the outer new city. The inner city is the more interesting of the two with over 87 mosques and over 300 Shrines to local holy men or religious leaders. Much like Stone Town in Zanzibar, Tanzania, the town is made up of a maze of little alleys and passageways 362 to be exact.
The only sort of disappointment was in the modernization of the womens clothing. They seem to have modernized significantly or the Muslim style there is just different. They still wore a lot of colorful wraps and head scarfs but very few of those sexy robes and full face masks. Those just make me feel so naughty especially as I have developed a sort of theory on how to distinguish the really hot ones even though they are covered from head to toe. Lucky I am not a Muslim as I would probably end up burning somewhere.

My five days there were pretty much spent walking those 362 alleys and passageways, or drinking juice at the local cafes. Not the super adventurous place, but not a bad place to get away from the big city. Sure there were a couple of interesting excursions, like spending two days trapped in a beauty salon, and of course playing with wild Hyenas, but those stories will come later.

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