The Bath of Fasiledes has now been restored with the help of funding from the Government of Norway. When my son, John, and I visited Gondar, Ethiopia in 2006 the work was still in progress with stone masons rebuilding walls.
This fascinating structure was created during the reign of Emperor Fasiledes (1632-1667). It is a stone walled compound within which there is a giant rectangular pool. Situated within the pool is a three story castle. The Bath was only a short walk from my house. In fact, it was across the road from the third compound of our school where all the school gardens were located. Between my house and the Bath was the sports field which contained the charming monument to Zobel, Fasiledes’ favorite horse. The celebration of Timket is held on January 19 or January 20 if it is leap year.
Timket is one of the two major public celebrations of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The other is Meskel which is held in September to commemorate the finding of the true cross. Timket commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. The Bath was filled in early January by routing water from the nearby river through an ancient irrigation ditch. Because the hospital sanitarians told us they had chemically treated the water in the Bath, John Stockton and I took an early swim in the Bath on January 4, 1963. In my diary I noted that it was “as cold as swimming in Lake Superior in August.”
On January 19, 1963 I wrote:
(Photos: Bath of Fasiledes)
The next day I noted that someone had drowned in the pool and five boys were killed during the week when an Italian shell exploded while they were knocking it against some rocks.
I also wrote on January 20, 1963:
In my diary I wrote:
Usually found on the piazza was a beggar who could not walk and yet was always friendly. He navigated on his back by holding two wooden blocks in his hands and moving on all fours like a spider. It must have taken him hours to reach the Bath from the piazza which was a mile away up the mountain. There he was on the edge of the pool. He took off all his clothes, tied them around his neck and tumbled into the pool. Once in the water he was the equal of any man. I cannot do justice in describing the joyful expression on his face as he was blessed on this one day of the year, Timket. He swam across the pool and two policemen lifted him out of the water. He put his clothes back on and crawled off.
In 1964, a leap year, the ceremony was held on the 20th.