Ethiopia: Harar


Harar is Ethiopia’s great muslim city, in the east of the country. Founded in the 8th century and having played host to a relative of the Prophet Muhammad, it is considered by some as the fourth holiest city in Islam. With its winding alleys, traditional houses built around a courtyard and hidden behind white walls, and 99 tiny mosques (allegedly the highest density in the world), Harar feels a like a cross between Zanzibar and Timbuktu.

The Old City is surrounded by fortified walls behind which nestle 4000 traditional Harari houses and many small markets. Little has changed in Harar since the mid-19th century when the explorer Richard Francis Burton visited disguised as an Arab and found a bustling trading city ruled over by the Emir of Harar.

Closer to the Arab world than to Christian Ethiopia, Harar remains a prosperous trading hub at the crossroads of the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa. An ancient city whose spirit of tolerance has attracted people of all faiths and beliefs for many centuries, from Sufi mystics to the French poet Arthur Rimbaud who lived in Harar for 11 years in the early 20th century.

With 70% of the population chewing chat, a hallucinogenic herb, Harar is a relaxed, not to say torpid place indeed.

Walls of the Old City and Egyptian Gate.


A walk in the market



An old Harari tradition: feeding the hyenas


Visiting a traditional home




traditional Harari home where we spent a night