the beginning of the 1930’s, the sumptuous palace (Guebi) of the noble
Nassibou Zamanuel stood in the centre of the Ethiopian capital, Addis
Ababa. It was surrounded by a fifty-thousand square meter park, adorned
with tall trees and ornamental plants imported from all over the world.
The Guebi consisted of dozens of rooms elegantly furnished with Louis
XVI and Chippendale-style furniture, Sèvres china and immense tapestries
from Beauvais. Some eighty household staff, butlers, domestics, cooks
and gardeners were assigned to the running of the palace, working under
the watchful eye of Dejazmatch Nassibou, a divinely handsome man - over
six feet tall, with attractive, serene features and an athletic figure
clad in a dazzling general’s uniform.
In the life of the Dejatch, all seemed remarkable and idyllic as in a
fairy-tale: from the time he conquered the heart of the young Atzede
Mariam Babitcheff, following a breath-taking race at the Imperial Race
Course in the presence of the Regent, Ras Tafari Makonnen; to the time
he took her on a pilgrimage to the top of Mount Menagesha, where the
hermit-saint, Wolde Mariam, foretold the birth of five children to the
On October day in 1935, however, the lovely fairy tale came to an abrupt
end. By order of Benito Mussolini, the Italian forces began the invasion
of Ethiopia from North to South, without a declaration of war. Dejatch
Nassibou fought with valour to defend his culture, the ancient
Coptic-orthodox civilization which made of Ethiopia a Christian land in
the heart of Africa. The forces however were far too disparate, and the
conflict would spell the end of the Ethiopian Empire and of the
splendour of the Nassibous.
On 21 June 1936, Ivan Babitcheff, father-in-law of Dejatch Nassibou, was
arrested. On 19 October, the Dejatch dies in a clinic in Davos,
Switzerland. In the months that follow, all the Nassibou family are
forced into exile.
More than sixty years after these events, Martha Nassibou, daughter of
the Dejazmatch, tells the tale of the incredible journey of her family,
exiled in Italy from the end of 1936 until August 1944. Eight years of
exile in the “vacation resorts” of Mussolini, for no fault other than
being the wife and children of Dejatch Nassibou Zamanuel, who had
conducted himself with extreme correctness in war, an attitude certainly
not reciprocated by Viceroy Rodolfo Graziani.
A valuable historic testimony, the book sheds light on the world of that
Ethiopian aristocracy, “juggling between the wish to preserve their
feudal heritage and a powerful longing for modernity”.
Angelo Del Boca