Lake Tana Monasteries & Bahir Dar

Lake Tana Monasteries & Bahir Dar: Ethiopia’s Lake Tana is the source of the fabled Blue Nile River and that the Lake is dotted with island monasteries. Because of their isolation they were used to store medieval art treasures and religious relics from all parts of the country. Such as Kibran Gebriel,Church of Ura Kidane Meheret, Narga Sellassie, Dega Estifanos, etc.

Tis isat Falls(Blue Nile Falls); a sight which inspired the 18th Century Explorer Robert Bruce to Say “…Fall in one sheet of water, without any interval, above half an English Mile in breadth, with a force and a noise that was truly terrible, which stunned and made me for a time perfectly dizzy”

Bahir Dar, Lake Tana, and Tis isat Falls
Lake Tana is Ethiopia’s largest lake, stretching 52 miles in length and covering some 1400 square miles in West Gondar.
At 5700 feet altitude it is nearly surrounded by chains of extinct volcanic mountains. Dozens of small streams feed Tana, including the Blue Nile(Abay), which originates in a swamp called Ghish Abbai, about 85 km southwest of the lake. Some say that this swamp is the actual source of the Abbai or Blue Nile, which is Tana’s main outlet.

Tana is teeming with fish, with some catfish weighing up to 30 pounds. Birds also abandon especially pelican, ibis, stork, cormorant, fish eagle, kite, hornbill, starling, and weaver species.

Bahir dar does not itself have a lot to offer tourists other than its picturesque market and its excellent view of the lake and head of the Abbai (Blue Nile) from the Imperial Villa 8 km east of town.

The biggest attraction, however, is nearby Tisisat falls, which are about 35 km due south of Bahir dar, En route you pass typical tukuls, round huts whose walls are made of cow dung, grass, and clay whose pointed roof is formed from strong grass. The falls best live up to their reputation during September- December, after the heavy rains have swollen the lake and river. The falls’ three characters together do stretch half a mile across, and the divided river bed plunges down in two stages nearly 140 feet, creating, indeed, when the river is high, a deafening , “smoking:, misty waterfall. In the distance are the chains of mountains forming a beautiful backdrop, and lush vegetation lines the riverbank and gorges sheltering pythons, monkeys, and colorful birds.

Lake Tana’s second attraction is its 30 or so islands with their churches and monasteries. Most of Tana’s monasteries were founded in or just after the 14th century, several under Emperor Amda Tseyon (1314-44). The monasteries protected the libraries and treasuries of the imperial churches, especially during the invasions of Muslims led by Gragn(the left-handed) from Harar.

Today several of the islands can be visited and their churches and treasures admired, though on some women are unfortunately forbidden entrance. The island monastery closest to Bahir Dar is Debre Mariam, built during Amda Tseyon’s reign, rebuilt by king Tewodros II (1855-68). Now a large but unimpressive straw hut, it was once a famous monastery with 50 churches under it. The church owns a manuscripts of the Tetra-Gospels, once of the oldest hand-illustrated Ethiopian manuscripts, that dates around 1360-1380.

Kebran Gabriel Island is about 40 minutes by boat from Bahir dar, and is one of those closed to women,. The church, first built in the early 14th century, was reconstructed in red stone in the late 17th century by Iyasu the Great” for love of the Angel Gabriel because he had been his guardian angel since his infancy.” The cubed sanctuary, which inside has many different painting styles, on the outside is encircled by 12 stone pillars, each symbolizing an apostle. Nearby is the tower of Iqa-beit, which houses a 50 volume library, including other manuscripts of Tetra-Gospels, this one dating from about 1420 and contains 36 illuminated pages about the four evangelists, 13 pages of the Canons of Eusebius, and 19 pages on the life of Christ.

Zeghie Peninsula, 1 ½ hours by water from Bahir Dar, has a good Friday market, coffee and gesho(used to make tej) growing wild, and Uhra Kidane Mehret, a17th century monastery church, with its vivid “recent” paintings. The large island of Dek, 3 ½ hours from Bahir dar, has several churches and semi-mummified remains of king Fasiledes and his infant son in an open sepulcher. One church, Arsima Sematat, named after St. Ripsime, a virgin martyr who was stripped naked and beheaded along with her 27 companions by order of King Dertades, has a manuscript from 1430. On nearby wooded Nargha a stone walkway, is joined to Dek’s western shore in the dry season by a season by as tone walk away, is Selassie Church, built by Queeen Mentwab in 1746 and featuring a portrait of her lying at the feet of the Virgin mary. Also near Dek is Daga
Estifanos Island with its perfectly conical hill and its monastery of Daga on top-no female of any species are allowed near.

Mariam Ghemb Sysenyos is an hour west of Gorgora, Tana;s northern town, and at its crest are the ruins of the castle and cathedral, built along the lines of a European Covent for the Portuguese Jesuits during Emperor Susenious reign (1607-320). Debre Sina is in Gorgora near the landing pier, and its paintings have been preserved since commissioned by the queen of Iyasu the Great (1682-1706). (Tour itinerary)


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