Muslims refer to the historic walled citadel of Harar Jugol as the City of Saints, and regard it to be world’s fourth-holiest city after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. Harar is also Ethiopia’s most important repository of Islamic landmarks, with 82 mosques and 438 Awaach (shrines of important Islamic scholars) crammed into its 48 hectares. The city’s lively markets and unique gey gar (city houses) are relicts of the many centuries when Harar served as the most important trade emporium in the Horn of Africa, linking the ports of the Somali coast to the fertile Ethiopian interior. Harar Jugol was inscribed as a UNESCO, World Heritage Site in 2006.
- UNESCO regards Harar’s unique city houses, with their exceptional interior design, to be the most spectacular facet of its cultural heritage. Entered via a traditional carved wooden door, the houses have a split-level interior centred on a living room whose niched walls are hung with myriad household items, notably the circular flat polychrome baskets for which Harar is famed. A good example of a traditional gey gar, decorated with hundreds of vintage artefacts, is the well-executed facsimile in the Harar Community Centre Museum.
- The Sherif Harari City Museum, set in the wide-balconied double-storey mansion where Emperor Haile Selassie spent much of his childhood, hosts a superb private collection of antique Islamic manuscripts, Harari coins minted during the 18th century, traditional Harari costumes, musical instruments, and household artefacts.
- The Arthur Rimbaud Museum is housed in the beautiful fresco-ceilinged house where its namesake poet-turned-trader reputedly lived in the late 19th century. It now functions as a museum with displays dedicated to the poet and a fascinating collection of monochrome photographs of the city taken in the late 19th and early 20th century.
- The domed Awaach of Amir Nur, the 16th century ruler who constructed the walls around Harar Jugol, is the most important of 438 Awaach (shrines) dotted around the old town.
- Thought to be the oldest of the city’s mosques, the modern-looking Al-Jami Mosque was reputedly founded in the 10th century and includes one minaret dating to the 1760s.
- As dusk falls over the city, Harar’s famous Hyena men emerge to feed wild hyenas at two sites: Aw Ansar Ahmed Shrine outside Argob bari Gate and the Christian slaughterhouse outside Assumiy Bari Gate
- Awarded the UNESCO Cities for Peace Prize in 2002, Harar is a delightful and welcoming city to explore on foot, its winding labyrinth of alleys leading to busy market places where colourfully-draped local women sell deliciously juicy tropical fruits, pastel-painted cafes brewing coffee plucked from the surrounding hills, and craftspeople such as cotton traditions weavers, jewellers and bookbinders.