The Timkat Festival: Ethiopian Festival of Epiphany

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Priests walking with the Tabot, the Ark of the Covenant, in a procession through Gondar (Carl Court, Getty Images/ The Guardian)

Today we celebrate the Timkat Festival, the Ethiopian celebration of Epiphany.  This year, it takes place on 19 January, while on leap years it is on 20 January (which is the 10th day of the TerrEthiopian calendar).  It is a celebration of the baptism of Jesus Christ on the Jordan River by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–23).  For the celebrations, pilgrims come from around the country to enact the baptism, celebrating the Epiphany, which lasts 3 days.

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Pilgrims at Fasilides’ Castle in Gondar (Carl Court / Getty Images/ The Guardia)

The best place for the celebration is in Gondar at the Fasilides Castle: a Pure Gem of Ethiopia’s Rich History. During the ceremonies of Timkat, a procession headed by the most senior priest is led to the river, carrying the Tabot, a model of the Ark of the Covenant, reverently wrapped in rich cloth. Once the water is blessed, many jump into the water to partake into the renewal of the baptismal vows. It is a great joy, for many believe that the sick are cured. It is a feast of celebration, and processional crosses of varying size and elaboration as well as various Ethiopian artifacts can be seen on the occasion.  Participants wear the traditional shamma, which is a thin, white cotton wrap worn like a toga and as headdress.  The best places to attend the event are in Lalibela, Gondar, or Addis Ababa.

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Female drummers during the festival (Carl Court / Getty Images / The Guardian)

Here are photojournals from The Guardian, the Huffington Post, and the BBC on the Timkat Festival; my favorite one is from the Guardian, by Carl De Souza, and the other one by Carl Court. I also liked this article on the wildjunket. Enjoy!!!

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Ladies posing near trees during the Timkat celebration (Carl Court / Getty Images / The Guardian)

Fasilides Castle: a Pure Gem of Ethiopia’s Rich History

Map of Ethiopia
Map of Ethiopia

Throughout human history, every great empire has had great builders and phenomenal architectural fits: The Romans with Emperor Titus who built the Colosseum, the Inca builders of Machu Picchu, the Egyptian pharaohs with the great sphinx of Giza and the great pyramids, the first emperor of China and the Ming dynasty with the Great Wall of China.  However, few today know of the Abyssinian builder Fasilides and his work.

Ethiopian Emperor Fasilides is one of most remarkable rulers of Abyssinia, the ancient name of Ethiopia.  A member of the Solomonic dynasty, emperor Fasilides ruled over Abyssinia from 1632 to 1667.  He founded the city of Gondar in 1636 which became the capital of Abyssinia, in the northwestern part of Ethiopia.  He was known as Alam Sagad or ‘To whom the world bows.’  Today, thousands bow to his work, and his footprints have marked the history of Ethiopia forever.

Fasilides' Castle
Fasilides’ Castle

Among the buildings he constructed there are the beginnings of the complex later known as Fasil Ghebbi, as well as some of the earliest of Gondar’s famous 44 churches: Adababay Iyasus, Adababay Tekle Haymanot, Atatami Mikael, Gimjabet Maryam, Fit Mikael, and Fit Abbo.  Fasilides is also credited with building seven stone bridges in Ethiopia.  Sebara Dildiy (broken bridge in Amharic) was one of two stone bridges built over the Blue Nile River during Fasilides reign.  Sebara Dildiy was later repaired during Emperor Menelik II‘s reign in 1901.  Emperor Fasilides also built the Cathedral Church of St Mary of Zion at Axum.  Fasilides’ church is known today as the “Old Cathedral” and stands next to a newer cathedral built by Emperor Haile Selassie.

Fasilides' Bath
Fasilides’ Bath

When King Fasilides made Gondar the seat of his empire in 1636, he constructed a palace that would eventually sprawl into a large complex, as succeessors added their own buildings to the compound.  Set in the heart of what is now one of Ethiopia’s largest cities, the palace complex is a mixture of beautifully-preserved period architecture with European and Moorish influences, and rambling ruins.  Interestingly, Fasilides’ Castle itself is the best-preserved, with its lower halls, reservoirs and steam-baths, remains of kitchens and stables, and even enclosures for leopards and lions that used to grace the grounds.  The castle is located near the city center.  Its structure is purely made of stone.  Today, Fasilides baths are used for baptism during the Timkat festival, the epiphany, in late January; they are only filled with water for the festival.  The castle can be found in Gondar, Amhara regionFasilides’ Castle is definitely a representation of Ethiopia’s great and rich history.