Bahir Dar and Lake Tana

Bahir Dar is on the southern shore of Lake Tana. Built in the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries, it is a lovely city with wide, palm-lined avenues. Gaily-painted buildings and papyrus boats on the lake compete with noisy bajajs (rickshaws), which provide cheap, basic transportation for everyone.

The real allure of this area is the ancient churches and monasteries found on the numerous islands and peninsulas of Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia. The lake empties into the Blue Nile Falls, which are most spectacular during the rainy season, June through September.

The monasteries that are open to visitors are reached on hired boats. Some of these have amazing treasures including libraries with well-preserved ancient manuscripts, the tombs of five former Ethiopian emperors, the church of St. George, which is decorated with beautiful murals and Ge’ez writing, and Judaic sacrificial pillars that suggest to some that the islands were once home to the Ark of the Covenant. In addition, the islands are floral and faunal sanctuaries, where species have been undisturbed for centuries.

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