Explorations, culture, nature


2008, a year of Last Hope? Medieval Ethiopia cancelled

Posted by Marco on January 14, 2013 at 1:15 AM

Since around 2008 I started looking for ruins on google earth, on rare ancient maps of Ethiopia and on mud and slippery local ground, where at times little misunderstandings from professional colleagues have made my job a bit harder.

Phillip Paulitshkes’ map, Harar section, 'ruinen' and 'Stadt', town mentioned in many places

Massive ruins just found, jan 5th, 2013 by Meftuh Shash where Paulitschke saw them in 1885

That very year cobblestone roads started appearing everywhere around Addis Ababa and steadily started diffusing all over the Country. Good roads designed to last forever, made possible through abundant work force, engaged in particular in finding and hand cutting to shape millions of cubes of local stone, of whatever sort available. Good pocket money for dozens of thousands of quarriers, similar numbers of road makers.


 In front of My home, Addis Ababa

Before me friend Hartwig Breternitz had looked well, with exactly the same means: ancient maps, sat views and good boots, all around Addis in the quest for Barara, mythic medieval capital of Abyssinia.

His discoveries are amazing, some coincide with mine. They are mainly mountain fortresses, indices of the presence just below of important historic towns, Badeqqe, Sire, Masin and, obviously, Barara, capital of Ethiopia for around a century, from 1435ca under Zera Yacob to its destruction in 1530 by Mohamed ibn Ibrahim al Ghazi, the conqueror of Abyssinia, from Hubat near the Kundudo, Hararge. A man of Somali origin better known as Ahmed Gragn, the left handed.

Barara has not been found.

In my idea, it has been obliterated by a number of stone crushers along the now badly, chaotically overbuilt road that leads from Addis to Sebeta. Exactly under the former palace of Sahle Selassie of Shoa, whose site reveals walls of more ancient fabric and whose huge granaries appear to be a tell, possibly the seat of a very important Tabot, that of Mary above Barara.

Crusher above the last eastern propagations of Addis: Quarries crushing our Query

Two years ago I noted, from the amazing mountain fortress of all kings after Zera Yacob: Baeda Mariam, Naod, Lebna Dengel thrushed around here by Ahmed the winner, a spiral like man made structure. From the satellite it proved to be a near one hundred meter by seventy complex ellipse with a wide central room probably designed to sustain a huge roof, supported and broken into manageable sections by many walls. The first visit on the ground revealed it was locally wellknown to be Sahle Selassie’s granary.

A brief bibliographic review, made very easy by Wikipedia, proved Sahle  was appreciated for his efforts, after the tragic 1829 famine, to save his people and prevent further droughts placing a number of huge granaries over his land, where grains where collected from all directions.

Interesting: the image of Ethiopia since climate change has produced unnaturally frequent droughts, is that of very thin and emaciated… Bob Gheldof, the ugly rockstar with a hearth surrounded by suffering beautiful Ethiopians.

It is quite a mediatic shock to discover a granary bigger than a basketball stadium with all spectators’ rings, 200 years old, capable of storing easily above 15,000 tons of grain. A feat the Irish yet unaware of rock music. or the Europeans in general, by then often hit by famine so tragic they had to abandon their continent, rarely, if ever produced.

Sahle also built a Church of lesser dimensions, whose inner sancta sanctorum is tapered with some amazing paintwork.

Sahle Selassie's Stately Palace near the granaries, distinct older foundations are scattered all over

The overlooking 2,3 kms walled fortress, until now erroneously designated on local geological maps as ‘rock outcrop’, the huge, stunning granaries and his palace remnants, obviously built on older ruins and most probably reused by Menelik around 1880 for his first Antotna, or Entotto palace, make together a worth visit above buzzing Addis, away from its dense uncontrolled fumes, just where this 7 million megatown is trying to outgrow the steep hills.

The Wechacha fortress, definitely pre Oromo invasion, indicated by local informants as 'Zara Yaqob's'

Back to 1530, when this fortress above, if not built by Zara Yaqob by his direct successors was most likely destroyed.  

I read the description of the conquest of Barara, as referred one the Futuh al Abesha, by the yemeni chronicler Arabi Feqih, full name Sihab ad-Din Ahmad bin Abd al-Qader bin Salem bin Utman:

‘Whatsoever each one takes is his.’ And with this the Muslims raided the district, killing the people and the monks. Afterwards the soldiers plundered a vast booty of gold, silver and silk: the Muslims split up around the region plundering. As one came back with booty another set out to plunder. This pattern of behaviour went on for quite some time. [They] plundered an unaccountable quantity of gold, silver and silk over twenty days of Ramadan. Small and great among the Muslims became wealthy.” Iman Ahmed to push his men to pass flooded Awash river, 1529 and reach Barara,

“There was a church there [in Barara] that belonged to the former [Abyssinian] king whose name was Na’od bin Admas -1494/1508- and of which the Muslims had no knowledge. They had gone there looking for cattle and provisions. When the Muslims reached the church they found it stacked with gold. There was gold plate in the church, gold and silver bowls, and silken furnishings.”

A copy of the frontespice, Futuh al Abesha, Asad Library in Damascus, Syria. By Syed Alawi

They describe further descending from the highest mountain and defeating the king in his mountain fortress, to find  and pillage the Church:

“They [the soldiers] took vast booty [from the church], and turned around and returned to the imam who was then upstream from the river Awash. He [Imam Ahmad] questioned them about the district and whether they had encountered any resistance. They replied: ‘the infidels [Abyssinian forces] are on the other bank [impassable due to seasonal flooding]. The whole countryside is brimming over with gold and silver, all its mountains and valleys and its churches are filled with gold, silver and silk.”

Seeking confirmation of this report Imam Ahmad summoned a recently captured Abyssinian from Barara, who’d undergone what medieval Yemeni author ‘Arabi Feqih’ referrers to as a ‘sincere conversion’ to Islam. Accordingly the convert testified:

“Your soldiers have spoken the truth… the whole countryside [of Barara] is rich in gold and silver. All the wealth of the Christians is in this district because they had never heard of any Muslim arriving in this area, and for this reason they [Abyssinians] felt confident about leaving their wealth there.”

-Parts of the Futuh al Abesha reordered and expanded from B. Strachan,

if the King's (Lebna Dengel or Dawit II) mountain fortress is the huge Enclosure found on the Wechacha, the church must have been thus just below. The most notable structure there is the granary, looking like a proper tell, what liies under it? Local informants are convinced the Tabot, the Church, they mean, was there Before the granary.

The Granaries from satellites. may the rich totally destroyed Church be lying here under?

The Granary site is a tell, rather visibly! Local witnesses see this as a very ancient church site, so they have this year built a church here, Korke Abo, much smaller than the granaries

Another likely candidate for the wealthy plundered Church is Ginbi, studied by Ricci, a provably ornated rich church.

Ginbi  ruins and detailed ornaments, site and two photoes above: Bruce Strachan, copyrighted, 2010.

BARARA, our rich medieval capital mentioned by a number of travellers from Abyssinia to Italy and vice versa may well have benn grounded to gravel and finer stones for varoius building purposes just under the Korke fields, in present day extreme eastern Addis Ababa.

A final, strong RECOMMENDATION, to the Oromia State in particular and to the Ethiopian Federal Government: do enforce measures forbidding all too easy stone picking in selected ancient sites BY PAYING LOCAL GUARDS. No more rich fragments, priceless ornaments should be turned into ordinary cobblestones. Avoid entire towers becoming peasants’ field partition walls.

A small local field border dispute is not even worth the money collectable through some external visits to old ruins, a church fragment is inestimable, six cobble stones are worth less than 50 birr (two euros).

But locals do not know these values, so it takes attention NOW to stop them, at least in some magic spots.

Archaeos have no money and a lot of intricated bureaucracy to overcome, they are an extremely precious and rare commodity just where they are most needed in the world, enquiring medieval Abyssinia. So the thriving, rapid and active Oromo peasant turned quarries inevitably gets there first, UNLESS researchers, voluntary google earth explorers, map readers and ruin hunters gather hands, NOW to turn amazing riches to use, any of many intelligent uses, rather than cobble stones.

DO find time and the limited resources needed to properly excavate here, before all is GONE.

Lanfranco Ricci at Ginbi in 1972 found 'conterie', little blue, violet etc. glass pearls of possibly Italian origin, amazing ornated stones and 5-6mm side gold cubes, 'cubetti di oro'. In the process of saving the ruins, we may find how and why so far, since late axumite days to Minilik, a single Ethiopian coin has not been found, apart from Harari mints, 1780 to 1880 ca. Could those 3,2 gram cubes have been diffused?  Today worth 172 USD each, could they have been currency then?

A much less pricey, but extremely interesting artefact he found is perfect mud spheres, probably built around a fruit kernel, sounding to me like a ball toy: one untouched, one pierced to use with a string.

To save the sites by simply paying say 300 birr, 12 euros salary to a guard per location, administrators need to know first where the sites are, thing now known just, in some cases to Hartwig Breternitz and me. Publication in any form, I would suggest electronic for ease and cost is urgent, collaboration amongst State and volunteer researchers, as well as Institutions as AAU and the Ethiopian art and manufacts conservatories is mandatory and paramount.

Pinpointing on Sat imagery sites found between Wechacha and Yerer, M. Vigano and H. Breternitz

Marco Vigano, Addis, Barara? here at home, Jan 14th, 2013


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