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Ethiopia: Kuskuam

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Kuskuam | Ethiopia | Africa

[Visited: October 2006]

Kuskuam is only a few kilometres out of Gondar, and while there are several other ways to reach it, I chose to take a bicycle in the city and use my own legpower to reach the top of the hill. The first kilometres are mostly slightly downhill, and I soon discovered that the brakes of the bike did not work very well. When I found the turn-off for Kuskuam, I was confronted with a steep road leading up Debre Tsehai, or Mountain of Sun, above which huge clouds were gathering. Struggling up on the bike, and trying to steer clear of the biggest stones on the road, kids were running after me. I was sweaty when I finally carried my bike inside the compound of Kuskuam church.

Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Remains of Kuskuam Palace

But I was not interested in the church, but the old palace behind it. The caretaker came with me, the enormous old wooden door to the palace compound was barred with a massive wooden block held in place by several stones in the wall, and a lock with a big key. Just when he finally managed to open it, the clouds in the sky started to open and it started to rain. I was able to see the ruins of the room where James Bruce lived in the 18th century, waiting for permission to visit the source of the Blue Nile. Then the rain turned into a downpour. One of the remaining arches offered me just enough coverage. It took a while for the clouds to empty themselves; when they finally did, the light on the remaining walls of the palace was bright, and behind the palace, I saw a low rainbow spanning the valley.

Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Tower and remains of a wall of the Kuskuam palace complex

The view from this hill over Gondar is splendid, and I could just imagine the royals who lived here having a great view from their well-situated palaces over the surrounding landscape. This palace was built by Empress Mentewab after 1730, and although much of it has fallen to ruins, you can still see different carved crosses above windows, as well as the general plan of most buildings, many of which covered by plants. It is sad and almost unbelievable when you are at Kuskuam that the chapel here probably had paintings as elaborate and colourful as the ones in Debre Birhan Selassie church. What is still easy to see, is how the queen circumvented the prohibition of menstruating women entering a church: there are twelve alcoves, which the queen would visit every hour with the praying priest standing outside swinging incense. All the time, I had been the only one exploring the ruins. Going down on the faulty bike proved difficult on the drained and muddy roads, and I basically had to walk all the way to the road.

Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Tower of Kuskuam palace covered by vegetation
Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Kuskuam Palace on top of Debre Tsehai
Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Palace of Kuskuam
Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Rainbow in the valley below Kuskuam
Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Personal chapel of Queen Mentewab, part of Kuskuam palace complex
Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Chapel of Queen Mentewab with alcoves for prayer during her menstruation
Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Defensive wall of the palace complex at Kuskuam
Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Kuskuam palace: carved cross above a window
Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Ruins of the library of James Bruce, Scottish explorer of Ethiopia
Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Window with carved cross in Kuskuam palace complex
Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Carved cross above a window in the Kuskuam palace complex
Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Arched door in the ruins of the Kuskuam palace complex
Picture of Kuskuam (Ethiopia): Part of the palace complex of Kuskuam

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