Amhara National Regional State (ANRS)

Ancient Monastries

There are ancient monastries and churches of remarkable historical and cultural interest in 37 islands of Lake Tana.

The islands and peninsulas of Lake Tana are most conveniently approached by boat from Bahir Dar on the southern side of the lake, though boats can often also be obtained at Gorgora on the northern shore. You can hire a boat from some of agency in Bahir Dar. If you are alone, It will be economical to team up with other foreign travelers

 

The main interesting and historic locations on or around the lake include the islands of Birgida Maryam, Dega Estefanos, Dek, Narga, Tana Cherkos, Mitsele Fasilidas, Kebran, and Debre Maryam, as well as the Gorgora. Mandaba, and Zegie peninsulas. All have fine churches. Though founded much earlier, most of the actual buildings date from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth centuries. Many have beautiful mural paintings and church crosses, and house crowns and clothes of former kings.

Access to the churches is, for the most part, closed to women; they are allowed to land on the banks of the islands but not permitted to proceed any further. The clergy sometimes agree to bring some of their treasures to the water's edge for women visitors to inspect.
 

Women are, however, permitted to visit churches on the Zegie peninsula, the nearby churche of Ura Kidame Mehret, and Narga Selassie.

 
Attractions
 
Kebran Gabriel
(9km from Bahir Dar, 30 minute)
 
Kibran Gabriel, the nearest monastry to Bahir Dar, founded in the 14th century and rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Iyasu (1682-1706). It's renowned for a magnificent manuscript to the Four Gospels that is believed at 14th century. The museum of this monastery displays collections of priceless treasures; good painting. For religious reasons women are not allowed to enter this monastry.
 
Zegie Peninsula, Ura Kidane Mihiret
(12 km from Bahir Dar,40 minute)
 
Ura Kidame Mehret is another popular attraction, with the added advantages that woman are allowed inside. Located on the Zegie peninsula, the monastry is an internal part of the local community. The church design dates from the same time as that of the Kebran Gabriel church. But it is a more decorative building with colorful frescoes depiction biblical scenes from biblical lore and the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
 
Daga Estifanos
(40 km from Bahir Dar, 1 day)
Although farther away from Bahir Dar, it is well worth visiting. A steep trek up a winding path leads towards the monastry on the summit. Some ninety metres above the lake; surfaces are low, round, thatched-roof buildings that house the monks, and nearby an arch set into a high stone wall leads to a grassy clearing, at the centre of which stands the church of St. Stephanos, a relatively new building erected about a century ago after the original structure had burned dawn in a grass fire.

The real historic interest in Dega Estefanos, however, lies in its treasury. Here, together with numerous piles of brightly coloured ceremonial robes, are coffins containing the mummified remains of several former emperors: Emperor Dawit (late 14th century), Emperor Zere Yakob (15th century), Emperor Suseniyos (early 17th century) and Emperor Fasiledas (17th century) all rest here. The modern, glass-sided coffins allow visitors to view the mummified bodies.

 

Dega Estefanos also said to have served as a temporary hiding place for Ethiopia's most jealously guarded religious relic - the Ark of th Covenant. Tradition has it that the Ark was brought to the island for safekeeping in the 16th century when the Muslim forces of warlord Ahmed Gragn attacked and occupied Axum, where the Ark normally rested. Unfortunately, it's closed to women.

 

Tana Kirkos
(50 km from Bahir Dar, 3 hours)
 

A beautiful and unusual place, Tana Kirkos, is completely covered by dense green shrubbery flowering trees and tall cactus plants. Beautifully illuminated scrolls and leather bound books with leather pages hand-lettered in Ge'ez are kept there.
The founder of the Ethiopian church music, St. Yared ( 6th century) wrote his first book of song called Degua in this monastery. The museum also has collections of valuable and unique treasures like other monastries. However, this monastry is also closed to women.

 
Narga Silassie
(37 km from Bahir Dar, 2 and half hours)
 

Located on the shore of the Deq islands, at a small forest-covered semi-island, Narga Silassie monastry is quite different from other Lake Tana monastries architecturally. It is built in a tradition of Gondar, by the Empress Mintiwab (1730-1755) with domes and turrets on the three gates.

In addtion to top four attraction above, There are churches named Azwa Mariam, Mehal-Zeghe Ghiorgis, Yeganda Tekle haymanot in zeghe peninsula. These monastries differ from the island monastries in that they are not highly isolated from the local society. they are also surrounded by the dwellers who are leading a non-monastic life.

Beside these monastries you can enjoy your time at Gorgora, northern part of Lake Tana. The port of Gogora is about 75kms by boat from Bahir Dar. St. Marry church of Debre Sina is of remarkable interest, above all,to its glorified Abyssinian Tukul of thatched roof building and mural paintings. It's located just behind the port of gorgora. The deep waters of the lake to the north of this church is a place where you can watch hippos. On a peninsula known as old Gorgora, 10kms by boats to the west of the port of Gorgora, is found the ruins of Emperor Susneyos (1607-1632), built in the year of late 1620's. It served as a 'blue print' for the famous Gondar palace. Along this route, the island monastries of Birgida Mariam, Mane-Endaba Medhanialem and Gelia Zekarios are also worth to visiting.

 
Getting there
 

When you arrive at Bahir Dar, you can have some information from the hotel booth in Ginbot Haya Airport. Gihon hotel and Tana hotel are located along the lake side. They also have their own boats. Other boats are always available for setting tours or individual requests to visit the monastries, the hippos, the Blue Nile or other requests.

 

Here are your contactable tour operators.

 

Name of the tour agency

Telephone (251-58)

Location Name of the boat Carrying capacity
Pacific Boat agency 220 05 37 Tana Hotel Narga
Entons
16 passengers
7 passengers
Shum Abo Tana Mona-steries Travel Agency 220 15 34 Shum Abo Park Heaven,
Hamere Tsidik

8 passenger

15 passengers

Moon Light Boat Tour 220 50 81 near Polytechnic Moon Light
Kibran Gebrael
8 passengers
12 passengers
Ghion Boat Tour 220 07 40 Ghion Hotel

Alpha
Mahitem

Tana

10 passengers
15 passengers

15 passengers

Tana Haik Number One Boat Tour Agency 220 10 75 Behind St. Mikael Church Mariye 16 passengers
Tana Haik Transport Enterprise 220 00 06 Mango park Yekatit
Dahilak
Fasiledes
Tana Nesh
40 passengers
40 passengers
50-60 passengers
400 passengers

 

 
For further information, contact Tourism Commision or other travel agencies.