Harer – The Walled City
Although you could argue that each one of Ethiopia’s ancient historic towns is unique, Harer stands apart because of its location in the east of Ethiopia and its strong Islamic heritage. It’s Ethiopia’s only walled city and gives you an entirely different perspective on Ethiopian history and modern Ethiopian culture.
In the 10th century, as the Christian Kingdom of Zagwe was rising in what is now northern Ethiopia, the fortified town of Harer Jugol in the east was growing in strength and importance. This vibrant trading hub was the centre of the powerful Adal Sultanate which ruled a big stretch of the Horn of Africa. Today Harer is a lively place with over 100 shrines and 82 mosques, the oldest of which date from the 10th century. It’s also considered to be the fourth holy city of Islam, after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.
Inside the ancient city walls, you wander through the colourful, mazy streets of the Old City overlooked by the unusual wood-façaded houses that combine Indian and Islamic influences. Mosques nudge churches, and locals in brightly coloured clothes part ways at the doors to their respective places of worship, reuniting after prayers. The city was awarded the City of Peace Prize in 2003 for its religious tolerance, and the way in which people coexist despite a history that could have caused deep rifts is very special.
You stay in a typical Hareri home, its seating and sleeping platforms adorned in bright rugs, the walls hung with traditional baskets. Even the flavours here are slightly different, spiced with influences from India.
In the evening, you go to see the feeding of the hyenas that live within the city walls, a ritual that has been practised for many, many years. There are dozens stories about how, why and when this ritual began, but what isn’t disputed is Harer’s long relationship with its spotted hyenas. There have been ‘hyena holes’ in the walls for hundreds of years, and these scavengers are believed not only to clean the city but also to eat the evil ‘jinn’ or spirits that would otherwise possess people in the city.
In the 19th century, the French poet Rimbaud was drawn to Harer, and you visit his home here.
Harer and the Northern Churches Tour
This is a sample tour that includes this experience. It gives you an idea of cost and what you could expect to see and do in 12 days.
- 2 days in the Islamic walled city of Harer where you can witness the feeding of the hyenas. You will be staying in traditional Hareri house
- 2 days in Bahir Dar visiting the 14th-century island monasteries scattered across Lake Tana
- 1 day touring Gonder’s fortress city Fasl Ginb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- 2 days wandering through Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches and visiting Yemrehanne Kristos and the Asheton Maryam Monastery in the surrounding hills
- 2 days in Axum, the ancient capital of the Axumite Dynasty, including a visit to Yeha Temple – the oldest standing structure in Ethiopia
- 3 days (2 nights) exploring the open markets, testing delicious coffee, eating healthy Ethiopian dishes and relaxing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s historic capital
Starting from $1,875 per person* on double occupancy basis (excluding all flights)
Single supplement: $250
*Minimum group size 4
- All accommodation on B&B basis
- All airport transfers
- Entry fees and a local tour guide at all the historic sites
- An expert guide to accompany you throughout your tour
A few suggestions for tailoring your tour
You may wish to include a mountain trek, a few days cycling, or perhaps bird watching. Or we can arrange for you to spend an extra night or two at a particular place.
- 2 days and 2 nights birdwatching in the Awash National Park, drive from Harer to Addis Ababa and cross the Great Rift Valley
- 3 nights at the Bale Mountain Lodge in the Bale Mountains National Park
- 3 days at the Gheralta Lodge in Tigray visiting a few of the world’s most inaccessible mountain monasteries
We would recommend flying to Dire Dewa and short drive to Harer and spending at least two nights here.
When to go to Harer
You can travel to Harer at any time, although the best would be between late September and the end of June.
Our top tip for Harer
“As it gets cooler in the late afternoon, take an aimless stroll through the Old City. In this light the colours of the buildings and people’s clothing are even more vibrant. Sop to talk to people you pass. Most people are happy to chat, and you can learn a lot about the city from a few friendly conversations.”
To make the most of it
If you like reading we suggest the novel Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb, or Notes from the Hyena’s Belly by Nega Mezlekia.
Flights to Ethiopia
What happens in an emergency?
Communicating in Ethiopia
Ethiopian time and dates
The weather and what to pack
Mobile phone coverage and Internet access in Ethiopia
Advice from locals
Girma Tadele has organised two trips for my wife and I to Ethiopia and each one has been meticulously planned and organised with a variety of interesting places to see and visit. He is too an engaging and informative guide with excellent local contacts who can also guide with lots of local information and considerable charm. On our second trip we were lucky enough to be introduced to the hyenas of Harar – a unique and unforgettable experience.- Hal Haden, East Sussex
The walled city of Harer lies on Ethiopia’s eastern fringes. Famed for its mosques and its trading culture, the city also speaks volumes about how Ethiopia embraces people from many different beliefs – and those with none. It’s also here that Tadele Travel Director Girma Mosges first understood what true ...