Description of Magdala - Climate and Water Supply - The Emperor's Houses - His Harem and Magazines - The Church - Prison-house - Guards and Gaol - Discipline - A previous Visit of Theodore to Magdala - Slaughter of the Gallas...
Amba Magdala, distant about 320 [Footnote: According to Mr. C. Markham.] miles from Zulla, and about 180 from Gondar, arises in the province of Worahaimanoo, on the border of the Wallo Galla country. The approach is difficult on account of the steep ascent and narrow precipitous ravines that separate it from the rivers Bechelo and Jiddah and from the table-land of Wallo. It stands almost isolated - amongst gigantic surrounding masses, and viewed from the western side possesses the appearance of a crescent. On the extreme left of this curve appears a small flat plateau called Fahla, connected by a strip of land with a peak higher than the amba itself, and called Selassie (trinity), on account of the church erected upon it, and designated by that name. From Selassie to Amba Magdala itself there is a large plain called Islamgee, several hundred feet lower than the two peaks it separates. At Islamgee several small villages had been erected by the peasants who cultivate the land for the Emperor, the chiefs, and soldiers of the amba. The servants of the prisoners had also there a spot given to them where they were allowed to build huts for themselves and cattle. On Saturday a weekly market, formerly well supplied, was held at the foot of Selassie. Numerous wells were generally sunk during the dry season close to the springs of Islamgee, which wells afforded a small but constant supply of water. From Islamgee the road up to Magdala is very steep and difficult. To the first gate it follows, at times very abruptly, the flank of the mountain. To the right, the sides of the amba rise like a huge wall; below is a giddy abyss. From the first to the second gate the road is exceedingly narrow and steep, turning to the right at a sharp angle with the first part of the road. Small earthworks had been erected on the flanks near the gates, protecting every weak point; The summit of the ridge was strongly fenced and loopholed. Two other gates led from the amba to the foot of the mountain; one had some time before been closed, but the other, called Kafir Ber, opened in the direction of the Galla country. The amba is well fortified by nature, and Theodore, to increase its strength, added some rude fortifications.
The Magdala plateau is oblong and somewhat irregular, about a mile and a half in length, and on the average about a mile broad. It was one of the strongest fortresses in Abyssinia, and by its position between the rich and fertile plateau of Dahonte, Dalanta, and Worahaimanoo, easily provisioned. Magdala is more than 9,000 feet above the level of the sea; and enjoys a splendid climate. In the evenings, almost all the year round, a fire is welcome, and, though a month or two before the rains the temperature rises somewhat, in the huts we never found it too hot to be uncomfortable. The high land that surrounds the amba in the distance is barren and bleak, due to the great altitude, and many of the peaks in the Galla country are, for several months in the year, covered with snow or frozen hail. Water, during and for some months after the rainy season, is abundant, but from March to the first week in July it gets scarcer and scarcer, until it is obtained only with difficulty. In order to remedy this disadvantage, Theodore, with his usual forethought, had several large tanks constructed on the mountain, and also sunk wells in promising places. The effort was pretty successful; the wells gave only a small supply of water, it is true, but it was a constant one all the year round. The water collected in the tanks was of very little use. Those reservoirs were not covered after the rains, and the water, impregnated with all kinds of vegetable and animal matter, soon became quite unfit to drink. The principal springs are at Islamgee; there are a few on the amba itself, and numerous less important ones issue from the sides, not many feet from the summit, at the base of the ridge itself.
Magdala was not only used by Theodore as a fortress, but also as a gaol, a magazine, a granary, and as a place of protection for his wives and family. The King's house and the granary stood almost in the centre of the amba; in front towards the west a large space had been left open and clear; behind stood the houses of the officers of his household; to the left, huts of chiefs and soldiers; to the right, on a small eminence, the godowns and magazines, soldiers' quarters, the church, the prison; and behind again another large open space looking towards the Galla plateau of Tanta.