The beautiful town of Bahir Dar rose to prominence in the 16th century and is now the center for commerce and government for the Amhara Region. Situated at the Southern shores of Lake Tana, the town is truly fascinating with its wide palm-lined avenues and tropical vegetations.
Covering more than 3,600 S.km, Lake Tana is Ethiopia’s largest lake, known to the ancient Greeks as Pseboa. The fabled source of the Nile, this majestic and mysterious Lake Tana is dotted with more than 30 islands-many of them home to ancient monasteries and churches. Plunging more than 2,00o meters in its 800 km course from Ethiopia to the plains of the Sudan, the Blue Nile begins its journey with a thundering 50-meter cascade over Tisssisat Falls, 30 km downstream from the point where it leaves Lake Tana. At the end of his Expedition to the source of the Nile, the 18th century Scottish traveler James Bruce also concludes that the source of the Nile is Lake Tana as he witnesses the Blue Nile River flowing from the lake. A boat excursion on Lake Tana also allows you to witness as the river leaves the lake at the southeastern shore.
The 30 islands that are scattered about the surface of Lake Tana can also make Bahir Dar an exciting destination for tourists. The islands shelter some very fascinating and mystical churches and monasteries. However, some of the monasteries can only be visited by men. Due in part to their difficult access, the Lake’s churches are well preserved and rich with the best of Ethiopian religious paintings, illuminated manuscripts, and other treasures. Some of the Island Monasteries we visit are Kebran Gabriel, Ura-Kidane Meheret, Daga Istafanos and Tana Kirkos.
Kebran Gabriel is the 14th century monastery on the nearest island that looks like a submerged mountain planted over with rich green trees. No women are allowed to set foot here. The monastery itself is situated at the very top of the island in a stone walled compound dominated by a large circular church in traditional Ethiopic design, housing lots of historic and religious relics. Ura-Kidane Mehret is another significant monastery of the medieval age, situated on the Zegie Peninsula. It is can be reached there within an hour’s cruise. Women visitors are allowed and the monks are very friendly and responsive. The church of the monastery is famous for its decorated interiors with a huge conical thatched roof and painted inside and out with colorful frescoes depicting scenes from Biblical lore and from the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox church. The monastery of Daga Istafanos is closed to women just like Kebran Gabriel. It can be reached within less than two hours’ cruise. Its natural beauty is breathtaking, located in densely forested with gnarled, ancient trees, through which a winding path leads upwards to the medieval monastery that stands on the summit. In the church of Saint Istafanos, with the help of candles or flashlights, we will see numerous piles of brightly colored ceremonial robes and several rows of shelves bearing coffins of several mummified remains of the former Emperors of Ethiopia. Quite differently the ancient Monastery of Tana Kirkos is completely covered in dense green shrubbery, flowering trees and tall cactus plants, with abundant bird life. After being greeted by dozens of smiling monkey, we will head to the church of Saint Cherkos where we will view ancient manuscripts, many beautifully illuminated scrolls and of leather-bound books with leather pages hand-lettered in Ge’ez language. The Ark of the Covenant was once brought to this island and stayed for 800 hundred yeas until it was later moved to the church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum in the 4th century AD, the time Ethiopia accepted Christianity as the official religion. The sacrificial altar still standing in the island witnesses the pre-Christian Judicial practices in the island.