Harar in the Eyes of Foreign Travellers during the Nineteenth Century


  • Ahmed Hassan Addis Ababa University


Commerce, Harar, History, Travelers/explorers/adventurers, City-State, Amir, Ottoman-Egypt


This article treats the city-state of Harar in the eyes of foreign travellers during the Nineteenth Century. Harar had not been accessible to European travellers and explorers until the mid-nineteenth century. This means that it could be difficult to reconstruct the history of the city-state of Harar, which was prominent for its regional and international trade for much of its history and could not be properly documented using internal sources alone with the exception of a few references in Arabic. Contrary to this, the second half of the nineteenth Century ushered in a new phase for Harar as it attracted European travellers, adventurers, and explorers who properly documented its long history and rich culture. The Egyptian interlude in the one decade of their presence from 1875–1884 also added a fresh input to learning more about Harar under Ottoman-Egyptian rule. Once integrated into the Kingdom of Shewa in 1887, another chapter of Harar’s history made its appearance and further attracted foreigners, among whom adventurers and diplomatic missions stand out quite clearly. The objective of this article is to look into Harar's place in the history of the region during the nineteenth century, largely based on the accounts of foreign travellers. Rich sources appear in different European languages. The impressions of those travellers who visited Harar in the nineteenth century stand out and sound quite solid, as well as being in desperate need of proper documentation. In the process of reconstructing the history of Harar, although travel literature plays a key role, it also seems quite logical that secondary sources will also add valuable information. The methodology employed is one of relying on qualitative sources largely tapped from diverse travel literature and existing secondary sources. After careful examination of the source materials, it appears that the main ideas put together from different travel and secondary sources were properly evaluated and justified, indicating that our knowledge about the City of Harar remains solid and even better.