Jimma is the largest town in the western highlands and (along with several other towns in the region) claims to be the birthplace of coffee. It is certainly an important centre for coffee production and distribution, and much of the surrounding countryside is devoted to coffee plantations.
The ancient kingdom of Jimma, traditionally Muslim and with its rich, fertile soils and fine coffee was an important centre of commerce where several key trade routes converged. By the 19th century, Jimma was the most powerful political entity in western Ethiopia, with an economy based on coffee, other agricultural produce, precious metals and ivory, as well as slaves captured in the far west. The market at Hirmata was attended by up to 30,000 people every Thursday.
The last autonomous ruler of Jimma was King Abba Jiffar, who came to power in 1878. However, six years into his reign, he agreed to a treaty with Shewa which effectively brought Jimma under the reign of Emperor Menelik II.
Jimma was a focus for development by the occupying Italians in in the 1930s, and architecture from this period is particularly evident in the Faranji Arada area of town