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Harar

Historical Attraction

Harar

Although is largely desert and low-lying savannah, Harerge’s northern reaches are mountainous and fertile, and it is there where the country’s only stretch of railway bisects the tip of the zone, leading from the nation’s capital to the port of Djibouti on the Gulf of Aden.

This railway, which plays an extremely important role in the modern Ethiopian economy, carrying a large share of its imports and exports, was first conceived by the Swiss craftsman Alfred Ilg, who arrived in the country in 1877 to take up the post of technical adviser to Emperor Menelik. It was a mammoth undertaking and fraught with problems.

For every kilometre of line, more than seventy tonnes of rails, sleepers, and telegraph poles had to be transported ­not to mention sand, cement, water, and provisions for the workers. The terrain was difficult: two large viaducts and many smaller earthworks had to be built within the first fifty or so kilometres of line, and others further inland. To minimize cost, a narrow gauge of only one metre was adopted, but expensive iron sleepers had to be used in view of the presence of termites, which could be expected to consume anything made of wood.

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