Lake Tana is famous mostly as the source of the Blue Nile and as the largest lake of Ethiopia and one of the highest large lakes in the world. At the same time, Lake Tana is also renowned for its monasteries which can be found directly on its shores, on peninsulas and on the many islands scattered all over the lake. It is pretty straightforward to arrange a visit to one or more monasteries from Bahir Dar. Lake Tana is not a clear mountain lake as you might expect, it rather has a muddy colour, at least during our visit after the rainy season.
The first stop was at Zege Peninsula, housing several monasteries. We first visited Ura Kidane Mihret, which does not look very special from the outside, as the traditional straw roof has been replaced by a corrugated iron one. But once you take off your shoes and step inside, you are bound to be impressed by the very colourful murals all around the inner wall of the church. On it, you can find a summary of Biblical stories, all painted cartoon style. Or are they Biblical scenes? Upon closer inspection, some of the scenes are very cruel: heads being chopped off, limbs leaving bleeding corpses, people hanging upside down from crosses... In one scene, you can even find soldiers with rifles depicted on the brightly coloured wall.
From Ura Kidane Mihret, we visited Azuma Maryam, which had more painted religious scenes, after which we visited the island of Kibran Gebriel. Until some time ago, women were not allowed on the island, now they have to stay near the water. The men went up on an excursion to the monastery of Kibran Gebriel, but stopped by some amazingly complex spiderwebs full of spiders. Once up in the monastery, we were shown some exquisite old goatskin religious books, painted and iron crosses before visiting the church proper. The style was visibly different from the one at the other Lake Tana monasteries, the paintings were much more damaged, but I found the paintings more finely done than the other churches. Furthermore, the building was completely different, with blocks of stone neatly fitting onto each other and forming high pillars on which the church rested. From this small island, it was only a short hop back to Bahir Dar; on the way we saw a reed tankwa, or traditional boat which is very similar to the ones depicted in ancient Egyptian engravings.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Lake Tana monasteries (Ethiopia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Lake Tana monasteries. Read more about this site.