LAKE TANA AND ITS ISLAND MONASTERIES
Lake Tana, the
largest lake in Ethiopia is the source of the Blue Nile from where it starts its
long journey to Khartoum and on to the Mediterranean. The 37 islands that are
scattered about the surface of the Lake shelter fascinating churches and monastries,
some of which have histories dating back to the 13th Century. However, it should
be noted that most of the religious houses are not open to women. The most interesting
islands are: Birgida Mariam, Dega Estefanous, Dek, Narga, Tana Cherkos, Mitsele
Fasiledes, Kebran and Debre Maryam. Kebran Gabriel is the principal monastery
which can be visited by male tourists from Bahar Dar with its impressive Cathedral-like
Building first built at the end of the 17th Century. Dega Estephanos, which is
also closed to women, is on an island in the lake, and is reached by a very steep
and winding path. Although the church is relatively new (only one hundred years
old), it houses a Madonna painted in the 15th century. However, the treasury of
the monastery is a prime attraction with the remains of several emperors, as well
as their robes and jewels.
On the banks of the lake are many more religious houses such as Ura Kidane Mehret and Narga Selassie, many of which are open to women.
Near Gorgora, at the northern end of the lake, the Susneyos palace is a forerunner of the magnificent palaces and castles of Gonder, and dates from the reign of Emperor Susneyos. In the same area the medieval church of Debre Sina Mariam is particularly important.
A sail or cruise on Lake Tana is one of the most pleasant excursions for visitors to this region, particularly in the heart of the summer. Boats can be hired from the Marine Transport Authority in Bahir Dar. Along the lakeshore bird life, both local and migratory visitors, make this an ideal place for birdwatchers. Bird lovers will not want to miss Fasilidas island, which is especially famous as an important wetland. The whole of the lake Tana region and the Blue Nile Gorge have a wide variety of birds both endemic and visitors. The variety of habitats, from rocky crags to rain forests and important wetlands, ensure that many other different species should be spotted.