The buildings at this archaeological site date to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the court of Gondar was the capital of Ethiopia. Portugal, while expanding its empire to East Africa, sent Portuguese Jesuit missionaries to Ethiopia, who converted Gondar’s emperor to Catholicism. The Portuguese brought with them artisans from the west coast of India—which had been under Portuguese domination from the early part of the sixteenth century, to the Ethiopian highlands and introduced entirely new building materials and methods. For the first time, arches, vaulted construction, and the use of lime became known in Ethiopia, and these new building materials and methods were then used at Gondar. Although the Jesuits were eventually forced to leave, the Goan masons and carpenters remained and influenced the architecture at Queen Mentewab’s palace and banqueting hall.
1998 and 2000 World Monuments Watch
Prior to recent conservation efforts, the banqueting hall and palace were in ruins. WMF identified the most dangerous factors of risk:
- the leaking roof floor slab has caused the decay of the timber beams
- exposed wall tops caused by deteriorated capping permit water infiltration
- buckling and loss of mortar will result in a future collapse of the upper part of the walls
- exposure to weathering and vegetation growth are speeding up the deterioration of the interior plaster decoration
- the lack of protection of the red stone reliefs will bring about further deterioration.
These five factors led to the development of WMF’s conservation project, which included:
- repair of the roof floor portion
- treatment of exposed wall heads; localized masonry consolidation
- treatment of the plaster
- treatment of the red stones
- repair of the back stairs
- structural stabilization studies
WMF’s conservation project stabilized and conserved the site, and trained staff in planning, preserving, and managing archaeological sites.
WMF’s relationship with Queen Mentewab’s mid-eighteenth-century palace and the seventeenth-century archaeological site in Gondar began in 1998 when they were included on the World Monuments Watch. WMF consultants visited the site and provided a report that was supported by a 1999 American Express grant. The site was again included on the Watch in 200. After several years, the conservation project was revived and WMF focused specifically on the conservation of the banqueting hall, built by Queen Mentewab, which was completed in December 2009. WMF collaborated with ARCCH (Agency for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage), the Ethiopian Cultural Heritage Project, and Fasil Giorghis Architects to mitigate deterioration, to protect Ethiopian heritage, and preserve its authenticity. The eighteenth-century palace and banqueting hall built by Queen Mentewab are not only become the kingdom’s finest example of “Gondarian style” architecture, embodying the best of Portuguese and Indian influences, but also illustrate the confluence of cultures in this region.