Situated at the southern tip of Lake Tana, the town of Bahir Dar has an ambience that is distinctly tropical, and this is unusual for this area of Ethiopia. With palm-lined avenues and the nearby lake that was once described as “the jewel of Ethiopia”, the town is extremely beautiful. With the nearby monasteries, Blue Nile Falls and, of course, the lake, it is worth staying here for a while to experience these sights.
The town was originally a small and sleepy village, but the construction of a hydro-electric plant nearby stimulated the growth of the town to its position today of fifth largest in the country. The town is modern, but has elements of the old about it, such as a waterfront church that is at least 400 years old. There are also a number of buildings which were not knocked down when the town was redeveloped, and there is a striking contrast between the old and the new, a common feature of Ethiopia.
Lake Tana is not one of the Rift Valley Lakes, but instead this area lies in the Ethiopian highlands. It has a large number of islands on it, which have ancient monasteries and churches built on them, and the mummified remains of Ethiopian emperors can be seen on a trip to the islands. One of these islands also has three Judaic pillars resting on it which are supposed to support the theory that the island was used to store the Ark of the Covenant. This is now apparently stored at Axum, but as only one living person – the Guardian of the Ark – is allowed to see it; we won't be able to show you this Biblical relic! Current thinking has suggested that the Ark made it as far as South Africa (genetic evidence has located an African tribe directly descended from Jewish priests in the country; Lemba lore suggests they brought down an item of immense biblical value southwards in an escape from religious purges), and it is now stored in Bulawayo...!
The monasteries are extremely important in the history of the country; mostly founded in the 14th Century of Amda Tsion, although some were older, they house treasure and mummies, and are extremely beautiful. The seven most important were reputedly founded by the ‘seven stars’, a loosely connected group of monks. The nearest island to Bahir Dar houses a library with almost 200 old books in it, and most of the monasteries seem to double as nature conservation areas due to the conservationist element in the sect of Christianity that they follow.
Lake Tana has some old forest surrounding it, and the Zege Peninsula has the largest remaining section of this forest on it. With monkeys and birds still living in it, as well as the beautiful lakeshore, these contribute to the environmental wealth surrounding the area.
This lake is the source of the Blue Nile; as it flows from the lake, about 30 km south it falls over a 45 m high rock face, to form the Blue Nile Falls; these are locally known as Tis Abay “Smoke of the Nile” or Tis Isat “Water that Smokes”. With four separate streams falling over the rock, and a width of 400 m at the top, these are a spectacular view.
Our Recommended Tours
The fascination of Ethiopia lies in its myriad historical sites, the obelisks of Axum, churches and Coptic monasteries in the Tigre, Lake Tana and Lalibela, the African Jerusalem.
Magical mystery tour to Axum, Lalibela, Gondar and Bahir Dar.
Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar, Gondar, Lalibela, Axum - 7 nights/8 days