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Experience Your Epiphany at Gondar's Timkat Festival

Published by Jonathan Vaas, Writer

Country: Ethiopia

The Experience

Gondar, one of Ethiopia's largest cities, springs to life every January for Timkat, the Ethopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. Timkat, which is celebrated on January 19, commemorates Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by reenacting the holy ceremony, and nowhere is the festival more stunning than in the 17th-century palaces of Gondar where the Ethiopian emperors once reigned. The main ceremony takes place in the Fasilides Castle, located just outside town in the Royal Enclosure.

Travelers gather from all over the world to witness the Gondar's Epiphany ceremony, when a model of the Ark of the Covenant is reverently wrapped in cloth and the laity have a rare opportunity to observe its splendor. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated alongside the Fasilides bath in the morning. At dawn the royal bath is blessed and its waters are sprinkled on the participants, who are then invited to renew their baptismal vows by immersing themselves in the water. The festivities don’t end there. The remainder of the day is spent in celebration, which culminates in a colorful procession during which the holy ark is escorted back to its church. The many-hued robes and umbrellas of the clergy illuminate the cityscapes with unforgettable colors, which move about as the participants perform joyous dances and songs; children run about hollering and playing with sticks and games. Rhythmic songs shake the ground and surge endlessly from dawn to dusk, when the holy ark has been safely restored to its church home. Then its time for an epic Ethiopian feast visitors will not soon forget.




When to Go to Timkat

Gondar has a full-service airport, with daily flights from Addis Ababa, Bahar Dar, Axum and Lalibela. From the airport the city center can be reached by taxi or minibus. Buses also travel to Gondar from Addis Ababa, which take around two days and stop overnight on the way. For travelers that have the time, the bus route is a good way to see Ethiopia’s vast landscapes.

Odds n' Ends

Besides the famous palaces, Gondar boasts several other points of interest, most notably: the famously decorated Church of Debre Berhan Selassie, which is regarded to contain the finest art anywhere in Ethiopia; the abbey of 18th-century Empress Mentewab in the nearby mountains; and the Felasha village, with its renowned pottery. Travelers should also enjoy a day in downtown Gondar, with its Italian-influenced architecture, shops, restaurants and cinema. The town is also home to Gondar University which includes Ethiopia's main faculty of medicine.


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