Harar, Ethiopia, boasts a rich architectural heritage reflecting its history and cultural significance. Preserving its architectural identity enhances its cultural heritage, contributes to tourism, and boosts economic growth. Architectural treasures include ancient walls, streets, Harari houses, and the Grand Jami Mosque.

Harar, situated in the eastern highlands of Ethiopia, has flourished by dominating the caravan route from the Red Sea to inland Ethiopia. Registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006, the old town of Harar Jugol Still maintains its traditional character as a Muslim City. Unlike other historical cities in Ethiopia, Harar still has comparatively wealthy residents thanks to a dense network of Harari dispersed all over Ethiopia. 

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Harar City _©http://ai.stanford.edu/~latombe/mountain/photo/ethiopia-2012/harar/harar-2_files/image003.jpg

Harari houses in Ethiopia have intricate wooden facades, ancient city walls, and the Grand Jami Mosque. The city’s architectural legacy reflects diverse cultures and is preserved through architectural review, offering a glimpse into its rich heritage and cultural pride.

Historical Background of Harar

One of Ethiopia’s most historically and culturally consequential cities is Harar, in the east of the country. In 2006, this fortified city was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List as “Harar Jugol”, said to be the fourth holiest city of Islam. It has 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century, and 102 shrines, but the townhouses, with their exceptional interior design, constitute the most spectacular part of Harar’s cultural heritage. The city’s urban fabric and architectural styles blend African, Islamic, Indian, and European influences.

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Harar, Ethiopia, is an ancient city _© The National

Below is a brief historical timeline of Harar:

  • 7th century: Harar, Ethiopia’s oldest city, was founded in the 7th century by Abadir Umar Ar-Rida.
  • 1520: The Adal Sultanate takes Harar, developing it as an Islamic centre and commercial hub.
  • 16th century: Harar Kingdom reaches its peak, becoming a strong city-state with a unique architectural character.
  • 1557: Harar becomes the Adal Sultanate’s centre after Ahmad Gragn’s military operation conquers it.
  • 1577: The Portuguese aid Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II in reclaiming Harar.
  • 17th–19th centuries: Scholars and students from all across the region are drawn to Harar as it develops into a hub of Islamic study.
  • 1887: Ethiopian Menelik II gains control of Harar and integrates it into the empire.
  • 1935–1941: During the Second Italian-Ethiopian War, Harar is occupied by the Italians; however, during World War II, Ethiopian and Allied forces recover Harar.
  • 1960s: Cultural conservation and management efforts concentrate on Harar, which results in its 2006 UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
  • Present day: Harar is still thriving as a significant cultural and historically significant city, drawing tourists and academics drawn to its unique architecture and rich history.
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shows the location of Harar in Ethiopia _©https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/2987/production/_97013601_ethiopiaharar9760717.png.webp
An architectural review of location: Harar, Ethiopia - Sheet4
Harar Wall _© http://ai.stanford.edu/~latombe/mountain/photo/ethiopia-jan-2017/harar_files/image006.jpg

Significance of Harar’s Architecture features, Materials and Style

The architecture of Harar holds immense cultural and religious significance, serving as an enduring testament to the city’s rich heritage. This unique architecture is a tangible reflection of Harar’s multicultural past, with its structures showcasing an amalgamation of African, Islamic, Indian, and European influences.

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Mosque In Harar _© http://ai.stanford.edu/~latombe/mountain/photo/ethiopia-jan-2017/harar_files/image009.jpg

Harar’s architectural identity blends diverse influences, styles, and heritage, reflecting the city’s rich history.

Harar’s architectural identity includes traditional Harari houses, intricate facades, city walls, mosques and shrines, Indian-influenced architecture, and open-air marketplaces. Traditional Harari houses promote community living and showcase Harari artisans’ craftsmanship. The city’s city walls define its old town, while mosques and shrines showcase Islamic architectural elements. The Arthur Rimbaud House is a unique example of Harar’s Indian-influenced architecture, reflecting its connections to distant lands.

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Moseques in Harar _© https://www.jaynemclean.com/blog/visit-harar-ethiopia-unesco-harari-culture-and-hyenas Jayne Mclean Photographer

The construction of buildings in Harar, Ethiopia, employs various local materials that contribute to the city’s unique architectural style. The use of these resources reflects the city’s adaptation to its environment and the creative ingenuity of its inhabitants. Harari Stone, locally sourced wood, and Adobe are used in Harari construction for intricate doors, windows, balconies, and secondary structures. Clay is used for roofing, flooring, and plastering, promoting sustainability and addressing the local climate and residents’ needs.

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Rimbaud’s House & Museum (Harar, Ethiopia) _© https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e8/Harar%2C_casa_di_rimbaud%2C_veduta_02.jpg/1200px-Harar%2C_casa_di_rimbaud%2C_veduta_02.jpg?20200506105214
An architectural review of location: Harar, Ethiopia - Sheet8
View over Courtyard and Old City – Rimbaud Center – Old City (Jugal) – Harar – Ethiopia _© https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ad/View_over_Courtyard_and_Old_City_-_Rimbaud_Center_-_Old_City_%28Jugal%29_-_Harar_-_Ethiopia_%288754084182%29.jpg

Harar’s architecture showcases its multiethnic heritage, blending Indian and European influences. The city’s traditional Harari house, built around a central courtyard, reflects its values and beliefs. The city’s diverse architecture, including finely carved wooden details and vibrant hues, transforms it into a real-life architectural monument.

“Harar’s diverse architectural features and styles create a unique aesthetic and cultural heritage.” 

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Mekina Girgir, Machine Street, bustling old Harar _© http://ai.stanford.edu/~latombe/mountain/photo/ethiopia-jan-2017/harar.htm

Landmarks and Notable Buildings in Harar

Harar, Ethiopia, is known for its significant architectural landmarks that mirror the city’s rich history and diverse cultural influences. 

Some of the most famous buildings include:

  • The Jugol Wall, also known as Harar Jegol, is an old fortress that has long served as the city’s defence. It is a crucial component of Harar’s architectural environment. Its historical relevance as a defensive structure and its distinctive construction methods, which capture the style of the era, contribute to its architectural significance.
  • The Grand Jami Mosque is a marvel of Islamic architecture and one of the most significant religious buildings in Harar. Its exquisite domes, thin minarets, and complex ornamental details make it a noteworthy example of Islamic architecture in Ethiopia and contribute to its architectural value.
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    Grand Jami Mosque, Harar, Ethiopia, _© https://www.flickr.com/photos/96594331@N03/45207504405

    Traditional Harari houses are a noticeable part of the cityscape of Harar. They are typically rounded and centred around a shared courtyard. Their distinctive ornamentation and design, which reflects Harari’s cultural values and artistic expression, are what give them architectural significance.

  • An architectural review of location: Harar, Ethiopia - Sheet11
    Traditional Harari House _© https://www.picfair.com/pics/09035161-traditional-harari-house-renovated-by-the-turkish-harari-region-harar

    The Arthur Rimbaud House is a structure with a variety of architectural styles that bears the poet’s name. It serves as a museum today, illustrating the history of Harar. Its distinctive design features, which highlight the Indian influences on Harar’s architecture, are directly related to its architectural value.

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House of Arthur Rimbaud – Inside _© https://global-geography.org/af/Geography/Africa/Ethiopia/Pictures/Harar/House_of_Arthur_Rimbaud_-_Inside

Gerhard Huber

  • An architectural review of location: Harar, Ethiopia - Sheet13
    House of Arthur Rimbaud _© https://global-geography.org/af/Geography/Africa/Ethiopia/Pictures/Harar/House_of_Arthur_Rimbaud_2 _ © Gerhard Huber

    One of the biggest and most spectacular Orthodox churches in Ethiopia is the Medhane Alem Cathedral, a significant Christian monument in Harar. Its distinctive Ethiopian Christian architectural style, with its circular shape, conical roof, and bright murals, is what gives the building its architectural significance.

  • An architectural review of location: Harar, Ethiopia - Sheet14
    Medhane Alem Cathedral, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia  _©https://www.flickr.com/photos/100954775@N03/49647779876

    The Sherif Harar City Museum displays the cultural and historical treasures of Harar and is located in a typical Harari home. Due to its distinctive Harari-style architecture and its function in safeguarding the city’s history, it is of architectural significance.

Together, these buildings showcase the architectural diversity and historical richness of Harar. Each structure not only serves a functional purpose but also stands as a testament to the city’s fascinating past and enduring cultural identity.


In conclusion, Harar, Ethiopia, showcases diverse cultural influences and architectural styles, with landmarks like the Jugol Wall, Grand Jami Mosque, and traditional Harari houses representing the city’s rich past and vibrant culture. Harar, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is like a beautiful tapestry woven from threads of African, Islamic, Indian, and European influences. Walking its streets feels like stepping into a living museum that tells stories of its diverse heritage. It’s not just about the buildings; it’s about the soul of the city, a reflection of our shared history. Saving Harar’s architecture means safeguarding its stories and lessons for generations to come. This intricate mix of the old and the new, shaped by its diverse residents, paints a vivid picture of Harar’s journey through time.


Centre, U.W.H. (no date) Harar Jugol, the Fortified Historic Town, UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1189

View of construction aspects in Ethiopia’s architectural traditions: A comparative view: Journal of traditional building, architecture and Urbanism (no date) View of Construction Aspects in Ethiopia’s Architectural Traditions: A Comparative View | Journal of Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism. Available at: https://www.traditionalarchitecturejournal.com/index.php/home/article/view/521/92

Sah blog (no date) Default. Available at: https://www.sah.org/community/sah-blog/sah-blog/2015/02/11/harar-and-old-goa-architectural-hybridity-on-the-periphery 

Bate, A. (2021) How the imposing Harar Jugol Wall fortified a thriving Islamic city, History Hit. Available at: https://www.historyhit.com/locations/harar-jugol-wall/ 

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Isha chaudhary (4th year architecture student at Dayal Bagh educational institute, from Agra, U.P. India) enjoys writing from different genres and wants to explore and enhance the knowledge in architecture. She believes writing expresses the emotions of architectural buildings and creates the impacts in readers mind .