The foundation of Harar goes back to the foundation of the first Muslim sultanate at the central and southern Ethiopia in 896 A.D.
In 1521 A.D. Amir Abubakar Muhammad tranferred his capital from Dakar to Harar which before long emerged as the most important town in the horn of Africa.
After the fourteen years of successive holy wars and the defeat of Iman Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim Algaz (Gran) in 1543, the power was assumed by his nephew, Amir Nur ibn Alwazir Mujahid, who married the late Imam’s widow, Bati Del Wambara. It was he who was responsible for the construction of the great wall (Jugal) around Harar for defensive purpose. This structure becomes the towns’ most important feature.
Because of its strategy, situated on the eastern spur of the southern Ethiopian mountain massif, Harar become the most important trade centre, playing an intermediary role between the two trading companies, the rich higlands of the interior and the Gulf of Aden ports. As a result Harar’s rulers struck their own currencies, the second ones in the history of Ethiopia after that of the Axumite and the only such money produced at that time in this part of Africa
Harar then and later, was like wise a notable Muslim city, producing a fine Islamic manuscripts taken to mosques all over the the horn, known as a muslim strong hold in the horn, some scholars considered it as the fourth Muslim city after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, while others named it Madinat al Awliyes – the city of saints.
Despite its commercial, religious and cultural importance, Harar was for centuries a closed and mysterious city until the early 19th centuries. After the defeat at the battle of challanqo in 1887, by Melelik of Shewa, Harar ceased to be an independent state and was forced to become part of Ethiopia.
Today Harar is the smallest state in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethipia, located in the south eastern about 526 km from Addis Ababa.
The old walled city of Harar used to be strictly off limits for non muslims. It was one of the most holy cities of the country.
In the west it is also famous for the fact that the French Poet Arthur Rimbaud lived here for a while. His house is still one of the most important sights of the city. Other sights include the friday mosque and the old city walls.
Harar is not on the train line from Addis ababa to Djibouti. This line was built by the French and there is still a French language girls school in Diredawa. So if you happen to speak French you may be able to get around with it more easily than with arabic.