Bahir Dar and Lake Tana

In short

Bahir Dar means lakeside town and is the capital city of the Amhara people. It is situated at an altitude of 1800 m above sea level, on the shores of lake Tana, near the Blue Nile falls. It is 580 km from Addis Ababa and 304 km from Lalibela. It is surrounded by a beautiful mountainous landscape. Bahir Dar is considered one of the most beautiful, well planned, and safe cities in Ethiopia. It is known for its wide avenues lined with palm trees and colorful flowers. One of its attractions is the open air market, one of the largest in northern Ethiopia.

Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile. It forms the main reservoir for the Blue Nile (Abbay) river, which drains its southern extremity near Bahir Dar. The Tana area is the traditional home of the Amhara, a Christian people. However, Tana was previously also the homeland of the Falashas who practiced a form of Judaism that appears to have separated from the Jewish mainstream before 650 BC. Currently there are few Falasha people left in the Tana region since after centuries of persecution most of the Falashas were airlifted to Israel in 1991.

The monastery churches of Lake Tana

A boat trip on Lake Tana is a popular tourist attraction combining both bird watching and culture. Scattered on the surface Lake Tana are 37 islands, sheltering fascinating and ancient churches and monasteries.

  • Ura Kidane Mihret – Dates back to 14th century during the reign of King Amad Tsion. Has interesting wall paintings depicting biblical history as well as a small museum.
  • Mehal Zeghe Giorgis and bete Mariyam (=the house of St Mariyam ) – renovated churches containing 18th century paintings.
  • Kibran Gabriel  – a 14th century monastery on Kibran island. Only men are allowed access. Kibran Gabriel has a large library of nearly 200 historical documents, including a highly valuable and beautifully illuminated manuscript from the 15th century.
  • Azwa Mariam – a traditional church with rich paintings.
  • Entos Iysues – a small island with a nunnery. Both women and men can visit.
  • Deber Mariam – situated on the southeast corner of lake near the exit of Blue Nile river. Houses a richly illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels.