19 March 2017

Ethiopia: Harar - the City of Love and Harmony

Harar is one of the ancient cities in Ethiopia and the fourth holiest city of Islam, owning 82 mosques. It served as the capital of Harari Kingdom from 1520 to 1568 until its integration with Ethiopia in 1887. It has been officially registered as an Ethiopian National Heritage site since 1974. History tells us that the Egyptians conquered Harar in 1875 a situation which gave tremendous support to the growing power of Harari Muslims to dominate the region's community and to force them change their religion into Islam.

Harar is mostly known by its warm hospitality, harmony and friendship. Those whoever visited Harar witnessed the mutual understanding and integration of its diverse residents. It is the home of several different Afro-Asiatic speaking ethnic groups who believe in various religions. They include the Oromo, Somali, Amhara, Gurage and Tigray. The Harari who refer to themselves as 'Gey Usu' (People of the City) are predominantly Semitic language speaking people. They lead their livelihood in trade and handicrafts. Weaving, basketery and book binding are the long-standing traditions of the Harari society.

Harar is located in the eastern part of the country on a plateau with deep gorges, deserts and Savannah. This sacred Muslim town was built in the 13th century. What the town differs from other towns is that it is surrounded by spectacular defensive walls. These magnificent walls were built in the 13th and 16th centuries by Amir Nur Ibn Mujahid. The walls have 3.5 km length and 4 km height. It has also five entrance doors. The doors are used as special emblems of the city of Harar.

The architectural designs of the city that depict African and Islamic traditions have played significant role in the city's urban development. Although there have been some urban development on the eastern and south-eastern parts, the basic relationship and strong bond between the urban and rural areas is still maintained. Except some changes took place in the 19th and 20th centuries, the overall structure and design of this historic city is still intact.

Beside, its tourism potential, Harar had been serving as the centre of commerce and pilgrimage for many centuries. Historical manuscripts indicated that Harar had its own currency to undertake business transactions within its territory and with other strong states of that time. Considering its reach cultural and natural heritages, UNESCO has inscribed the city of Harar in its tangible heritage lists. Moreover, the Jugol wall was registered in UNESCO's list in 2014. There are also other five tangible heritages to be inscribed in the list. These are: Dire Sheik Hussein sacred Islamic area, Holka Sof Omar, Gedio Integrated Agricultural topography, Melka Kunetere and Bale National Park. In Harar, it is also normal to see wild animals like hyena living with human beings. The tradition of feeding meat to spotted hyenas was started during the 1960s to be changed into an impressive night show for tourists.

In 2003 the City was given a World City of Peace award by the United Nations, in honour of Harar's unique ability to accommodate many ethnicities with different religions in a small area without conflict. This could be taken as a miracle to live as an island of consolidated peace, love and harmony in a region often plagued by tribal conflicts. Most states in Ethiopia in particular and neighbouring countries in general have acknowledged the recognition of Harar as world's city of peace and tolerance. They have also learnt huge lesson which is conducive for ensuring peace, security and mutual concern within their tribal groups.

Currently, the city of Harar is serving as the administrative capital of the Harari People National Regional State. The state government in collaboration with Federal government has been working to sustain the prominence of the city by enhancing its tourism, culture and social aspects. It has been undertaking various activities to bequeath the city's good image on peace, love and tolerance to the coming generation.

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