Harar is a walled city which stands on the eastern wall of the Great Rift Valley and is situated at about 526km from Addis Ababa, lying some 1850m above sea level in hilly but fertile countryside.. The city’s location gives wonderful views of the surrounding country – the vast Danakil desert to the north, the fertile Harar mountains to the west, and the cattle rich Ogaden plains to the south.
Harar was a fiercely religious city and was a forbidden city (closed to visitors), until 1887 when Menelik restored central rule. With its 99 mosques, including the 16th century Grand Mosque with is beautiful twin towers and slender minaret, it is considered to be the fourth most holy city in Islam after Mecca, Medina and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Harar was established by Sultan Abu Beker Mohammed in 1520. Harar, the Holy City of Ethiopia’s Muslim community, The old City Wall of Harar is the main attraction and symbol of Islamic architecture. Harar has the largest concentration of mosques in the world. One of Harar’s main attractions is the hyena man who feeds hyenas on the outskirts of the town every night.
Harar is known for its turmoil and bloodshed. Ahmed Gragn killed Abu Beker Mohammed who was the ruler of Harar. Ahmed Gragn was a militant Muslim leader and used Harar as his base to launch his jihad and raids against the Ethiopian Christian Empire in 1528. He destroyed many churches and threatened the complete distruction of Ethiopian Christendom. He was killed by Emperor Gelawdewos in a Battle near Lake Tana in 1543. The raids continued against the Christians led by Ahmed Gragn’s widow Bati Del Wambara. In 1559, Emperor Gelawdewos marched on Harar with the aim to eradicate the constant religious sectarianism taking place. Gelawdewos was killed in a battle and his head was paraded around the city on a stake.
In 1647, Emir Ali ibn Daud took control the city and established an autonomous administration. Despite the continuous fighting with Oromo tribes, Harar expanded; it became well populated, an important city for trade and a centre of Muslim scholarship. It issued its own currency. After 250 years of autonomous rule, Egypt occupied Harar and killed the Emir in 1875. The Egyptian action created a strong resistance in the Muslim community of Harar. Emir Abdullah took control and led a campaign against the Egyptians, which ended in 1885.
In 1887, Harar lost its autonomy when Menelik, Prince of Shewa, who later became Emperor of Ethiopia in 1889, waged war against the army of Emir Abdullah. Menelik defeated the Emir at the Battle of Chelenko in 1887. Menelik then established a new administration, including several members of the emir’s family to prevent renewed religious sectarianism, headed by Ras Mekonnen, the father of Emperor Haile Selassie.
Harar then began to disintegrate and lost its status as a trade centre in the end of nineteenth century when the railway line was built between Addis Ababa and Djibouti through Dire Dawa. From 1902, Dire Dawa became the main commercial centre of Ethiopia.
However, Harar remained as the spiritual City of Ethiopia’s Muslim community, the political capital of Hararge Province until 1994 and has become a federal city-state since 1995.
Ras, outside the Old Town, is part of the government owned chai. It is a 15 minute walk from the Old City.
Academy, main square near church is another.
Belayneh Hotel is a new hotel next to the bus station near the Old City.
Taxi within Harar, and minibuses are available from Dire Dawa and Harar. Also Dire Dawa can be reached by train road or air.