Harar is considered as a holy city by the Muslims. It is the provincial capital of Ethiopia's largest administrative region, Hararge. The city's location gives wonderful views of the surrounding country. Harar is situated in the Eastern Ethiopia about 54 Kilometers from Diredawa and 500 Kilometers from Addis Ababa. It has been a major commercial center, linking African and Islamic trade routes. It is considered "the fourth holiest city of Islam" with 82 mosques and 102 shrines.
Harar has been recognized by Unesco as 'an inland urban settlement with a distinct architectural character and social organization, which cannot be compared to any other town in East Africa.' The old medieval walled city of Harar once had its own local currency, and still has its own unique language.
Founded in the 12th century, the city was captured by Ahmed Gragn in 1520 who from Harar invaded large parts of Ethiopia. In 1875, Harar was captured by the Egyptians and in 1887 by Menelik II who appointed Ras Makonnen as its governor. Ras Makonnen’s army defeated the Italians at Adwa and Haile Selassie’s father.
The walls of Harar were pierced in early times by five gates, a number supposed to symbolize the Five Pillars of Islam. These gates were situated respectively to the north, east, south-east, south, and west of the city. Each had its own distinctive name, and provided entry to caravans traveling to and from different stretches of the surrounding country. Each of these gates played a different role in the economy of the city and of neighboring lands. The gates of Harar in olden days were strongly guarded.
The city is well known for its superb handicrafts that include woven textiles, basket ware, silverware and handsomely bound books, and Harar has been a place of pilgrimage from all over the world for many years. Another important building is the Rain bowed House, built by French missionary who came and settled at the historical place after the fall of the Harari kingdom. The Hyena Men performance is also quite an attraction.
The Hyena Men performance is a show where people gather a few feet from the hyena man of Harar. He then calls out to wild hyenas using his own "hyena dialect" and the wild animals draw closer from the place of their habitation. He picks pieces of raw meat, places them in his mouth, and then calls out to one of the hyenas to come forward. The called one advances towards him and snatch the meat from his mouth with its large teeth.
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
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