Gondar, which Emperor Fasiledes - the son of Emperor Susneyos - founded as his capital in 1636, is the site of numerous castle-like palaces, built in the 17th and 18th century. The city was Ethiopia's capital for 250 years prior to the rise of King Tewodros II in 1855. The imperial city of Gondar took its name from the Cushitic word "gon" (great) and the Semitic word "dar" (city), to form "Great City". During the long years when it was capital the settlement emerged as one of the largest and most populous cities in the country. It was a great commercial center, trading with the rich lands south of the Blue Nile, as well as with Sudan, to the west, and to the north-east, the Red Sea port of Massawa. Though predominantly Christian, and the abode of the highest church dignitaries in the region the town's inhabitants included many rich Muslim merchants, as well as a number of Falashas or Judaic Ethiopians who were predominantly weavers, blacksmiths, and potters, as well as palace and church builders.
Besides the famous palaces in the royal compound, visitors should inspect the so-called Bathing Palace of Emperor Fasiledes which is used for the annual Timket or Epiphany celebrations. It's worth to visit the church of Debre Berhan Selassie, with its remarkable ceiling decorated with winged angels and the ruins of the palace of the redoubtable 18th century Empress Mentewab in the mountains just outside Gondar.