Harar- The walled town
June 20, 2010
The town of Harar dates from before the thirteenth century. Its strategic location between the coastal lowlands and central highlands led to its development as an important centre of Islamic culture and commerce. A period of instability led to a loss of its traditional power between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries but it regained its importance in the following century.
Until the present century, all development took place inside the sixteenth-century walls, where even now the population is growing.
Although the modern town slowly expanded outside the walls, Harar has preserved generally a harmonious appearance with nearly a hundred mosques. Old Harar is one of the few towns in Ethiopia that owe their overall aspect to Islamic building traditions. At the same time, it preserves an exotic mixture of different Ethiopian cultures.
The fortified historic town of Harar is located in the eastern part of the country 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 townhouses 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.
Statement of Significance
Criterion (ii): The historic 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. Such influences have been merged with traditions that relate to the inland of Africa and particularly to southern Ethiopia, giving a particular characteristic form to its architecture and urban plan.
Criterion (iii): Harar Jugol bears exceptional testimony to cultural traditions related to Islamic and African roots. It is considered "the fourth holy city" of Islam, having been founded by a holy missionary from the Arabic Peninsula. Though a trading place and thus a melting pot of various influences, Harar has been in relative isolation in its region, contributing to a cultural specificity, expressed in its characteristic community structure and traditions, which are still alive.
Criterion (iv): Harar Jugol is an outstanding example of a type of architectural and urban ensemble which illustrates the impact of African and Islamic traditions on the development of specific building types. The building types and the entire urban layout reflect these traditions, which give a particular character and even uniqueness to Harar Jugol.
Criterion (v): Harar Jugol with its surrounding landscape is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, representative of cultural interaction with the environment. The social and spatial structure (afocha) and the language of the people all reflect a particular and even unique relationship that there developed with the environment. The cultural and physical relationships with the territory have survived till today, but they are also vulnerable to irreversible change under the impact of modern globalizing world.
Harar Jugol, the Fortified Historic Town - http://whc.unesco.org