“Gold in your hand,” the saying goes, “is regarded as bronze.”
On the northern edge of Ethiopia’s mighty lake, Tana, is set a small port city that has seen the thrilling theater of history play before its eyes. From the start of the Jesuit activities and Catholicism in Ethiopia to the rise of emperor Sussinious and the second Italian invasion, Gorgora has had a connection with numerous critical historical events in Ethiopia.
The story of Gorgora starts in 1607 when emperor Sussinious granted a patch of land to a Jesuit mission led by Pedro Páez on an unoccupied port north of Tana, which later became Gorgora. Four years later the emperor himself settled there, making it the latest of his temporary capitals. Páez, keen to ingratiate himself with the emperor and convert him to Catholicism, constructed a palace for Sussinous in 1614, then shortly afterward set about building the massive cathedral and castle now known as Maryam Gimb. Páez died in 1622, the same year that Sussinous officially converted, and was buried in Gorgora. Shortly thereafter, though, the city was abandoned, and the original Gorgora was renamed “Old Gorgora” after modern Gorgora, only several kilometers away, leaped to prominence following the Italian occupation, when a private company called “Navigatana” installed a car and passenger ferry service connecting it to several other lake ports and islands.
As I have noted above, this mostly overlooked city has several extraordinary historical sites that have connections with a plethora of extraordinary historical events. Among them is Mossolini’s stele high up in the hills.
This huge structure was set up following the capture of Gorgora, which was a hard-fought prize during the Italian occupation.
Another interesting historical site is emperor Sussinious’s castle, known by locals as Sussinios Ghimb, on the Old Gorgora peninsula 10km west of town.
Besides all the historically significant attractions that are found in Gorgora, there are also a variety of sites that are of spiritual significance to religions such as Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity.
The Portuguese cathedral originally set up by the Paez referred to by the locals as Maryam Gimb, for instance, is one of the notable religious sites that are found on the small island.
A more prominent and widely visited religious site found on the island is the Debre Sina Maryam church that belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church. This church is mainly known for the splendid frescos that decorate its round walls – including pictures of historical giants as Emperor Fasilades, Queen Sheba, and King Solomon.
One of the frescoes, the “Egyptian Saint Mary”(Gbtsawit Maryam), is said to have been brought to the area from Egypt and is believed to have the power to heal. The church’s thatch roof and surrounding stone buildings lend this monastery a more ancient feel than most.
Although I have tried my best to list some of the best-known attraction sites in the city above, numerous other historical and religious heritages are scattered all over the city like Man’Da Abba monastery, Birgida Maryam church, and the Abba Atmaregn cave that are of considerable religious significance.
If it was for the wealth of heritages the city holds, Gorgora should have been one of the most prominent tourist sites in the country. This city’s enormous potential, though, has so far been met with negligence and blind eyes. But recently, PM Abiy Ahmed has made it among the three places that were chosen to be part of the huge nationwide project that aims to establish the country as a major tourist destination in the coming years. This is a flash of hope for this long-overlooked splendor. And it is in our best wish to see Gorgora rise to the peaks it belongs to in the years ahead.
Article By: Kaleab Ayenew