Salambo in Addis

Salambo discovering Ethiopia

The Emperor’s old Palace

I am currently reading a fascinating biography of the late emperor Haile Selassie by the Italian historian Angelo del Boca, an author who has written extensively about the Horn of Africa and personally met the Emperor in the 1960s (The Negus, Life and Death of the Last King of Kings, Arada Books, 2012). Through his book I begin to understand better modern Ethiopia in the light of the historical developments which shaped the country, in particular the Italian Fascist occupation of the 1930s, the failed coup d’Etat against Haile Selassié in 1960, the creation of Addis as the new capital of the African continent in the 1960s and the revolution of 1974. The Author describes the sequence of events which led to the 1974 revolution and explains how the Emperor in his old age misread his own country’s repeated calls for in-depth reform. He remained the autocratic ruler he had been since the 1920s, even though he was eager to modernize his country and bring it to the international stage, which he successfully did with the creation of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963 in Addis. On a domestic level, he chose to ignore the deepening social and political crisis and the ever-increasing economic problems the Ethiopian people were facing.

Haile Selassié's old palace in the grounds of Addis Ababa's University

Haile Selassié’s old palace in the grounds of Addis Ababa’s University

Instead, he continued to grant privileges to his chosen elite, sending promising young students abroad and personally delivering degrees to all graduating students from Addis Ababa University, the University College he himself created. He personally greeted the pupils who obtained their Baccalaureat from the French Lycee Guebre Mariam, the school traditionally attended by the intellectual elite of the country and still a prestigious school today. He genuinely tried to nurture an intellectual elite for his country in the belief that it would be sufficient to set it on track for lasting development.  But the times had changed, socialism was gaining ground as an ideology, something he failed to understand.

Reading the book, I was interested to visit again his old palace located in the grounds of Addis Ababa University. The Palace he built was part of the estate he inherited from his father Ras Makkonen, one of Menelik’s closest advisers and the hero of the Battle of Adwa. He himself gave his estate to the University in the early 1960s. Today, the former palace is the seat of the respected Institute of Ethiopian Studies and its extremely interesting ethnological museum, but it has kept some memories of the Emperor’s haydays. Haile Selassie’s personal bedroom and bathroom (with some personal effects) have remained as they were, and next to it, the Empress Menem’s quarters have been kept as empty rooms. Their respective bathrooms look quite out of date, but at the time it must have been the height of luxury in Ethiopia.

The Emperor's private bathroom

The Emperor’s private bathroom

During the Fascist occupation from 1936 to 1941, after the Emperor had fled to England, the palace was momentarily occupied by the Italian governor and other high-ranking officials. They left a strange monument outside the main gate made of concrete steps crowned by the lion of Judah,  each step supposedly representing a year of Fascist rule in Italy. However, I counted only 14 steps knowing that Mussolini was officially in power from 1922 to 1943, and the Italians were in Ethiopia until 1941, so I remained a bit puzzled by it. The lion of Judah on top was added later to symbolise the end of the Italian occupation.

a legacy of the Fascist years outside Haile Selassié's palace in Addis

a legacy of the Fascist years outside Haile Selassié’s palace in Addis

The very pleasant grounds around the Palace are home to the ever growing University of Addis Ababa, which counts a number of Faculties in a number of different buildings scattered around the park. It is also the home of the well-known Kennedy Library, one of the landmark  buildings from the 1960s designed by a group of American architects. It may still be one of the most beautiful and peaceful parks in the city, located at the footsteps of the Entoto hills.

6 comments on “The Emperor’s old Palace

  1. oeildecat
    June 13, 2013

    Salambo, was the book first written in Italian? Or is it only in English?
    Thanks for sharing with us 🙂

  2. oeildecat
    June 13, 2013

    Oublié de dire: j’adore l’escalier en colimaçon, ou plutôt j’ai toujours adoré les escaliers qui ne mènent nul part, ou les portes qui s’ouvrent sur des murs.

  3. road Riot for Tango cheats
    October 3, 2014

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now
    each time a comment is added I get several e-mails with
    the same comment. Is there any way you can remove people from that
    service? Appreciate it!

    • Salambo
      October 3, 2014

      Let me see if I can find a way, OR maybe another reader out there might know?

  4. Gman
    July 16, 2016

    Correction to be made: HSI University was not only for the elites. He actually supported children from poor family to get access to better education. He himself was for long time the Minister of Education who oversaw generations get modern education. HSI gave his own Genete Leul palace to HSI University. Most accredited books do not deny HSI’s contribution to education and health.

    • Salambo
      July 18, 2016

      Thanks a lot Gman for your input, appreciated!

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