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Back from exile, two years ago, the princess Mariam Senna Asfa Wossen has just started a huge campaign to save Addis'old houses. Art deco palaces, Indian pagoda or Armenian small fort, the Ethiopian capital would have lost a lot of its charm without her.

The little daughter of the Negus, or Addis-Abeba nostalgia. Photos ŠLuc Castel/Point de Vue/Deal Team/Lightmediation Text ŽThomas Pignot Contact - Thierry Tinacci Lightmediation Photo Agency +33 (0)6 61 80 57 21 thierry@lightmediation.com


1406-25: Most of them are in escheat, dilapidated and worn, but their little eastern temples outlines with their ridgepoles and their openwork verandas still stand up. Some of them were transformed into schools


1406-01: Addis Abeba, the Ethiopian capital

1406-02: The decor where the « King of kings » lived remained intact, like this extraordinary art deco palace which is now the law university.

1406-03: The princess Mariam Senna Asfa Wossen, little daughter of the Negus back to Ethiopia

1406-04: Lul Gannat Palace. The décor where the « King of kings » lived remained intact, like this extraordinary art deco palace which is now the law university


1406-05: Lul Gannat Palace. The princess Mariam Senna Asfa Wossen, little daughter of the Negus back to Ethiopia in front of the elevator she used to play with when she was a child

1406-06: The princess Mariam Senna Asfa Wossen, little daughter of the Negus

1406-07: Lul Gannat Palace.There is almost nothing left from the imperial court's splendours, except a quite empty decor, a marble banister so blue that it blinds the glance

1406-08: Lul Gannat Palace. There is almost nothing left from the imperial court's splendours, except a quite empty decor, a marble banister so blue that it blinds the glance


1406-22: Houses of the Empire's dukes, built at the beginning of the last century, are in danger. Here the afanegus Atnafe's one, with conical roofs


1406-09: Houses of the Empire's dukes, built at the beginning of the last century, are in danger.

1406-10: The princess Mariam Senna Asfa Wossen in the old house of the Indian merchant Mohammed Ali.

1406-11: Houses of the Empire's dukes, built at the beginning of the last century, are in danger. Here, the Indian merchant Mohammed Ali's one.

1406-12: The princess Mariam Senna Asfa Wossen in the old house of the Indian merchant Mohammed Ali.


1406-13: Old house already restored

1406-14: Most of them are in escheat, dilapidated and worn, but their little eastern temples outlines with their ridgepoles and their openwork verandas still stand up. We can see them behind a shanty town.

1406-15: Most of them are in escheat, dilapidated and worn, but their little eastern temples outlines with their ridgepoles and their openwork verandas still stand up. We can see them behind a shanty town.

1406-16: The princess promises to restore the patrimony to make young generations sensitive to the unique charm of an African town founded by the emperor MĂŠnĂŠlik in 1886 and destined to become "the


1406-28: The princess often goes to Raguel's church, on Entoto mounts, where her ancestor, the emperor MĂŠnĂŠlik, had settled his first capital. A retreat more that 3000 meters high.


1406-17: The princess promises to restore the patrimony to make young generations sensitive to the unique charm of an African town founded by the emperor MĂŠnĂŠlik in 1886 and destined to become "the

1406-18: The "tukul", the oval hut, with its cikka walls, a mix of straw and mud. Threatened to be "devoured Âť by the urban development

1406-19: Most of them are in escheat, dilapidated and worn, but their little eastern temples outlines with their ridgepoles and their openwork verandas still stand up. Others portray the massive look of a fortress.

1406-20: Most of them are in escheat, dilapidated and worn, but their little eastern temples outlines with their ridgepoles and their openwork verandas still stand up. Others portray the massive look of a fortress.


1406-21: Most of them are in escheat, dilapidated and worn, but their little eastern temples outlines with their ridgepoles and their openwork verandas still stand up. Others portray the massive look of a fortress.

1406-22: Houses of the Empire's dukes, built at the beginning of the last century, are in danger. Here the afanegus Atnafe's one, with conical roofs

1406-23: Most of them are in escheat, dilapidated and worn, but their little eastern temples outlines with their ridgepoles and their openwork verandas still stand up. Some of them were transformed into schools

1406-24: Most of them are in escheat, dilapidated and worn, but their little eastern temples outlines with their ridgepoles and their openwork verandas still stand up. Some of them were transformed into schools


1406-16: The princess promises to restore the patrimony to make young generations sensitive to the unique charm of an African town founded by the emperor MĂŠnĂŠlik in 1886 and destined to become "the largest and most popular town between Cairo and Johannesburg".


1406-25: Most of them are in escheat, dilapidated and worn, but their little eastern temples outlines with their ridgepoles and their openwork verandas still stand up. Some of them were transformed into schools

1406-26: The old Djibouti-Ethiopian station where the imperial carriage is kept in a shed on a siding

1406-27: The old Djibouti-Ethiopian station where the imperial carriage is kept in a shed on a siding

1406-28: The princess often goes to Raguel's church, on Entoto mounts, where her ancestor, the emperor MĂŠnĂŠlik, had settled his first capital. A retreat more that 3000 meters high.


1406-29: The princess often goes to Raguel's church, on Entoto mounts, where her ancestor, the emperor MĂŠnĂŠlik, had settled his first capital. A retreat more that 3000 meters high.

1406-30: The Negus at his desk

1406-31: The princess Mariam Senna could finally see again his cousin, the prince Behede, imprisoned for fifteen years by the communist government

1406-32: The Addis cathedral with the Negus' tomb.


1406-21: Most of them are in escheat, dilapidated and worn, but their little eastern temples outlines with their ridgepoles and their openwork verandas still stand up. Others portray the massive look of a fortress. Some of them, more European, adorn themselves with an austere neoclassical pediment


1406-33: The throne of the Negus

1406-34: The grave of the Negus

1406-35: The church in Ethiopia

1406-36: Passports and last documents that belonged to the Negus


1406-10: The princess Mariam Senna Asfa Wossen in the old house of the Indian merchant Mohammed Ali.


1406-19: Most of them are in escheat, dilapidated and worn, but their little eastern temples outlines with their ridgepoles and their openwork verandas still stand up. Others portray the massive look of a fortress. Some of them, more European, adorn themselves with an austere neoclassical pediment


1406-33: The throne of the Negus

1406-36: Passports and last documents that belonged to the Negus


The little daughter of the Negus, or Addis-Abeba nostalgia. « This place is yours », insists the guardian, giving the Abyssinian princess permission to take a picture on the sly of the large banquet room which is now a student library. And yet. She would almost apologize of being here, Mariam Senna Asfa Wossen, delicate little daughter of Negus visiting with a muffled tread the Lul Gannat Palace, « princes' paradise », her grandfather old residence built in 1934 in the « European » style by the German architect Kametz. Her return to Ethiopia, after a long wandering between Switzerland, London and Virginia, is still too recent. "I have got so many memories here, she confesses in a law voice. My grandparents celebrated their golden wedding here. And this elevator! When I was a child, we used to have fun making it going up and down all the time. As for this bathroom with the golden plumbing, I remember that my grandfather had imagined it to impress the Marshal Tito". But there is almost nothing left from the imperial court's splendours, except a quite empty décor, a marble banister so blue that it blinds the glance. Haïlé Sélassié had certainly chosen this bright colour in memory of the Solomon temple, this king of Bible he said he descended from. Between the University's offices and the

showcases of the ethnographic museum, the princess had difficulty finding her grandmother's bedroom, the empress Menen, or her grandfather's office. But the memory of the past, although it is reduced, has still suckers. There is the visit of the general De Gaulle, a friend of the Negus since the London Blitz. The emperor even had a bed built for him in his measure. Historical films projected in the evening with all the family in a private cinema. The mythical chihuahuas' names? « Jacky and Lulu ! » ! And far away from the Epinal image of a great feudal lord giving raw meat to his lions on a silver plate, there is the memory of a sensitive sovereign: « Of course there is the charismatic leader who abolished slavery and fought against Italian invasion. But in private life, my grandfather was very warm, for example he used to address my grandmother as « tu », and behave gently and carefully towards us. He liked theatre and classical music and listened Beethoven and Chopin. Especially Chopin. Protector of arts, he used to encourage poets like Kebede Mikael. This is certainly to honour this aspect of his personality that I decided to create an association to defend patrimony and save Addis old houses, the ones of the Ras, the empire's dukes, threatened by the property frenzy ». « Addis Woubet », « The Nice Addis » in Amharic, the name of the foundation is full of nostalgia. For lack of going back in time, the aim of the association is at least to stop a little the mechanism of time. Indeed, it is easy to believe that we are in the 20's, in Austria-Hungary or on board of a steamship of the shipping company, in front of this other art-deco palace where the princess is leading us now. In April 1924, the Negus, at that time Ras Tafari, sailed for Europe with his court in order to

« see with hi own eyes the European civilization and the beauties of big capitals that he only knew through books ». When he came back, he had his first little palace built, "Amsal Gannat", "Image of paradise", that he gave afterwards to his distinguished guests, in particular the duke of Abruzzes. Is it the princess' white chamma posing in front of the two stone lions of the honour stairs? Or the thunder sky being reflected on the precious wood doors, the opaque glass of mirrors? Deceptive impression that nothing has changed. In fact, everything has changed? With an extreme violence the origin of which is prior to the « red terror » established by Mengistu in 1974. A wall of the "green Lounge", of Lul Gannat, is riddled with bullet holes and evokes the massacre of fifteen dignitaries of the Mengesthu Neway Empire, rebel general of the imperial guard. At the time of this first coup in December 1960, the crown prince Asfa Wossen, Mariam Senna's father, had to pronounce on the radio, under the threat of weapons, the dismissal of his father who was in journey in Brazil. The putsch failed, and the Negus restored his authority. Few years later, in 1973, the heir, victim of a cerebral attack, left Addis-Abeba with his family to undergo treatment in Switzerland. This departure has saved his life. But he will never see Ethiopia again. In the garden of the heir's large peristyle residence, located in the same district, a Karl Marx bust is still having pride of place. This bust was erected when the Derg turned the residence into a school for executives of the government. The princess is reluctant to see again this décor where she grew up with her four sisters and her brother Zere Yacob, decorated with French furniture and wallpaper imagined by a Parisian creator.

"My father liked great style. When we were in London, his ivory collection had filled the Queen Elisabeth II with admiration. He was very cultured, very different from his father too. He would have done a good constitutional monarch". He was proclaimed Emperor in April 1989 under the name of Amha Selassié the 1st, by the clandestine council of the crown, and attended, powerless, to the events: The murder of the Negus and members of his direct entourage, the imprisonment of forty uncles, aunts, cousins and nephews. During this time, her daughter was working for the Reader's Digest or as an interpreter for refugees before becoming a professor in a Montessori school which liberal values she shared. « I'm very open-minded, says Mariam Senna. I don't like pretension and I don't really care about this princess title». Instead of demanding the return of hypothetical despoiled goods, the princess promises to restore the patrimony, not for her personal benefit, but to make young generations sensitive to the unique charm of an African town founded by the emperor Menelik in 1886 and destined to become «the largest and most popular town between Cairo and Johannesburg". The architectural melting-pot of this city, at the junction of many influences, Ethiopian, Indian, Arabian, Italian, or Armenian, is quite unique. Most of them are in escheat, dilapidated and worn, but their little eastern temples outlines with their ridgepoles and their openwork verandas still stand up. Others portray the massive look of a fortress. Some of them, more European, adorn themselves with an austere neoclassical pediment. Finally, the most traditional ones better interpret the "tukul", the oval hut, with its cikka walls, a mix of straw and


mud. Threatened to be "devoured » by the urban development, we can just make them out behind a shanty town or a glass building. At the time of the Derg, most of the owners were expropriated, and the government had to accommodate 20 or 30 families in only one residence. This over-population added to the lack of upkeep finishes their slow deterioration. « At the moment, there isn't any protection law, says the princess. The first aim of the association was to understand these houses' history, thanks to the work of a specialist, the architect Fasil Giorghis, and then to record them on a database. We have counted 300 of these old residences, belonging to the "ras", the "dedjazmatch", dukes and counts of the empire, "afanegus", high magistrates or "abounas", dignitaries of the church". At the origin of this treasure, the vision of a man, the emperor Menelik who had a dream, when he was on the top of the Entoto mounts, 3000 meters high, to settle his itinerant capital on a plateau located below, in Filwoha, where hot springs gushed forth. Around his new palace, the Ghebbi, he allocated territories to his generals whose intrigues he scrutinized with a telescope! At the beginning, the « new flower » is just a vast cap, but, very quickly, dignitaries ordered rich-looking residences to Indian, Greek and Armenian craftsmen, builders and carpenters and later, to Swiss architects. In 1915, an Italian traveller, Lincoln de Castro, marvelled at these houses suddenly appearing « like magic, with their weird architecture between the Swiss chalet and the pagoda, shining with multicoloured paints". Some of them have

incredible stories like the one offered by the empress Zaouditou to the dentist Karachiani for « dental treatment », or the house of the Ras Nadaw who occupied the weird post of Likamakwas, real double of the Negus who was supposed to stand " under the imperial parasol to trick the enemy" during battles. Others distinguish themselves by their architecture like the afanegus Atnafe's residence, with conical rooves or the "extravagance" of Asfaw Kebbede, administrator of the palace that he lended to the king for his trysts. But the most important house to the princess is « Mohammed Ali House » with a veranda on piles and double stairs that she is restoring. "The town council gave us this residence that used to belong to the richest Indian merchant, native of Gujarati, and who had obtained the monopoly of salt by Ménélik. Strangely, it is an Armenian architect, Minas Kherbekian, who drew the plans". The decorator Jacques Dubois has been working for two months to restore the prestige of this building destined to become the new Addis' arts centre in October. This ambitious project will earn the « Nice Addis » an inscription on the prestigious World Monument Watch List. At the same time guests' house, headquarters of Addis Woubet, start of an itinerary to discover old houses, place of exhibition, this residence will soon become a real haven of peace and verdure. "I'm interested in biodiversity and we are going to create a tropical garden with rare or native essential oils, like the juniperus procea, a species of Ethiopian cedar », she explains to her cousin, the prince Behede Mariam Makonnen, who came to encourage her before the unveiling ceremony. With her cousin, son of the duke Harrar, the princess shares the same philosophy and a tragic and incredible fate. The prince, who became orphan when he was one

month, was raised by the Negus in his palace of jubilee and was put in prison at the age of seventeen. For fifteen years, he cultivated his mind alone and read by the light of a basement window. He passed his school leaving certificate behind bars. After his release and his secondary education in Canada, Behede started helping poor students through the foundation Haïlé Sélassié. Maybe it was written, in the dynasty book, that the little daughter of the Negus and the Ethiopian Montecristo would forget any ideas of revenge. To become a member of "Addis Woubet's friends" Contact: Her Imperial Highness Mariam Senna Asfa Wossen. P.O Box 1352, Addis-Abeba, Ethiopia. Tel : 00 251 911 127 123. Email: addiswubet@gmail.com

Addis-Abeba nostalgia  

Back from exile, two years ago, the princess Mariam Senna Asfa Wossen has just started a huge campaign to save Addis'old houses. Art deco pa...

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