The walls of the fortified historic city Jugol, Ethiopia

©Dereje Belachew/500px

Old Town


Harar’s old walled town (known as Jugal) is a fascinating place that begs exploration. The thick, 5m-high walls running 3.5km around town were erected in the 16th century in defensive response to the migrations northward of the Oromo, and little development occurred outside them until the early 20th century. There are six gates: five 16th-century originals and the car-friendly Harar Gate, also known as Duke’s Gate after Ras Makonnen, the first duke of Harar, who added it in 1889.

The photograph on this gate is of Emir Abdullahi, the last of Harar’s 72 emirs and the city’s last Muslim leader. The nearby Shoa Gate and the Buda Gate (Bedri Bari) are also attractive, though they no longer have their wooden doors. Erer Gate (Argob Bari), the one Richard Burton entered through, and the little-used Sanga Gate (Suqutat Bari) lie to the east. To the north is busy Fallana Gate (Assum Bari). Within the walls the city is a maze of narrow, twisting alleys replete with historic buildings, including 82 mostly tiny mosques (two dating back to the 10th century), more than 100 shrines and tombs, and about 2000 traditional Harari houses.

Fear not: you can’t get lost in the old town for too long. It is so compact that no matter how deep you get into the maze of alleyways you’ll eventually come to a wall or a larger street that will lead you to the bustling central square, Feres Magala (Horse Market).

What breathes life into these landmarks is the community that still lives within the city walls. Prepare to encounter the magnificent Adare (Harari) women, known for their colourful dress, and the sweat-soaked blacksmiths near Buda Gate who still labour over open fires.

You'll also find a number of shrines devoted to local religious leaders. They're peaceful, interesting and well-kept places, but they’re unsigned and so hard to find. Most are under large trees. The caretaker will expect a Birr20 tip for unlocking the door.

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Nearby Harar attractions

1. Mekina Girgir

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Leading southeast from Feres Magala, this narrow, atmospheric street is jam-packed with tailors’ workshops, which is how it came to be called ‘Sewing…

2. Feres Magala

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The main square is a bustling place with several minor points of interest. Most conspicuous is the monument to those who died fighting against Menelik’s…

3. Medhane Alem Cathedral


On the east side of Feres Megala is this rather unimpressive cathedral, built by Ras Makonnen in 1890 on the site of an Egyptian mosque.

4. Tomb of Said Ali Hamdogn


Said Ali Hamdogn was an important 12th-century religious leader. His whitewashed tomb can easily be visited; it looks a little like a miniature mosque…

6. Arthur Rimbaud Center

0.15 MILES

Near the middle of the walled city, and often mistakenly called Rimbaud’s House, is this museum dedicated to French poet Arthur Rimbaud with a series of…

7. Gidir Magala

0.16 MILES

Gidir Magala (previously known as the Muslim market) is the main market and the city’s biggest butchery. Watch how the locals hide their meat purchases…