Harar, Ethiopia: A Vision And a Story from a Foreigner

Author : Prof. Hisham Mortada

Year : 2011

Harar, Ethiopia: A Vision
And a Story from a Foreigner
By: Hisham Mortada
In May 2008, I was in Firenze, Italy, delivering a lecture on old Muslim city to architectural students at University of Florence (Universita degli Studi di Firenze, UNIFI). After I finished speaking, I started answering questions, one of which was a turning point in my scholastic carrier. It was from a student who asked why I didn’t mention Harar when I was talking about Cairo, Damascus, Fez, Isfahan, etc. as examples of old Muslim city. I naively replied that “Harare” was not a Muslim city. The student corrected me saying, Harar, not Harare. He added, Harar was the fourth holy city for Muslims. Though that was not persuasive as I knew that time that there were only three holy cities for Muslims: Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem, I welcomed the remark and let go.
The brief discussion I had with that Italian student motivated me to search for Harar. Surprisingly, I found that Harar was on the UNESCO World Heritage List and its history goes back to the time of Prophet Mohammed, in the Seventh century AD, when some of his companions migrated to al-Habasha/Ethiopia, before Medina. That was enough to entice me to make a trip to Ethiopia early 2009 to explore Harar myself. It was my first trip ever to a non-Arab African country. After a long ride from Addis Ababa, I arrived Harar late night, yet I was eager to go around and see Jugol, the old Harar. However, it was dark, very quite and nothing to see at that late hour of the night. Next day in the morning I walked to Jugol, almost running. There, inside Jugol, nothing excited me in the beginning. Unexpectedly, the city started to grow inside me by seconds. In less than an hour, I failed in love with it.