The fortified historic town of Harar is located in the eastern part of the country, 525 km from the capital of Addis Ababa, on a plateau with deep gorges surrounded by deserts and savannah. The walls surrounding this sacred Muslim city were built between the 13th and 16th centuries.
Harar Jugol, said to be the fourth holiest city of Islam, numbers 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century, and 102 shrines, but the town houses with their exceptional interior design constitute the most spectacular part of Harar’s cultural heritage.
The impact of African and Islamic traditions on the development of the town’s building types and urban layout make for its particular character and uniqueness.
The present urban layout follows the 16th century design for an Islamic town with its central core occupied with commercial and religious buildings and a maze of narrow alleyways with imposing facades.
The traditional Harari house has a typical, specific and original architectural form, different from the domestic layout usually known in Muslim countries, although reminiscent of the coastal Arab architecture, and with an exceptional interior design. At the end of the 19th century Indian merchants built new houses
Their architectural and ornamental qualities are now part of the Harari cultural heritage.
From the late 16th century to the 19th century Harar was an important trade centre between the coast and the interior highlands and a location for Islamic learning.
Today Harar is the administrative capital of the Harari People National Regional State (HPNRS). The historic town has a traditionally functioning community, forming a complex social-environmental whole where each element has its symbolic and practical significance.
The Harari people are distinguished by the continued cultural traditions and quality of their handicrafts, including weaving, basket making and book binding.
The organization of the communities through traditional systems has preserved its social and physical inheritance and, significantly, the Harari language.
The town of Harar Jugol exhibits an important interchange of values of original Islamic culture, expressed in the social and cultural development of the city enclosed within the otherwise Christian region.
Harar has been officially registered as an Ethiopian National Heritage site since 1974. The legislative framework which protects the property includes the “Heritage Conservation Draft Proclamation of Harari People National Regional State” (January 2000), “The Establishment of Harar Heritage Conservation Office” (Proclamation no. 21/1992) and the Federal Proclamation no. 209/2000 for “Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage”.
In addition, four levels of protection have been identified for the property within the Management Plan: principal monuments, important historic buildings, contextual urban fabric and ‘out-of-context’ buildings
The Ethiopian Herald 13 February 2021