On the shores of Lake Tana, Bahir Dar is a tropical town, the ideal place to explore the Blue Nile Falls, ancient monasteries and the copper-tinted lake.
This was originally a Jesuit settlement in the 16th Century. Today, Bahir Dar is a clean, safe and well maintained city by African norms. Firmly entrenched on the traditional Historical Circuit it offers simple access to over 20 of the world’s oldest monastic churches dating back to the 14th Century on the peninsulas and islands of Lake Tana. The source of the Blue Nile is a small stream which flows into the lake.
Graced with tree-lined avenues and lakeside vistas with a distinctly tropical ambience on the southern shores of Lake Tana, the city of Bahir Dar has some of the best tourist amenities in the country. It’s a modern settlement with architecture enhanced by a number of older buildings. Town centre also features a daily central market which is especially good on Saturdays.
Lake Tana was well known to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks – as far back as the 5th century it was described as the jewel of Ethiopia. The striking colour and papyrus boats sailing the surface of the lake easily invoke thoughts of Ancient Egypt.
Tana was once the political and spiritual focus of the Christian Empire and over twenty 14th Century monasteries remain steeped in mystery and legend. These sites house ancient books, sacred relics and support an ancient tradition related to the the Ark of the Covenant.
The Blue Nile Falls can be explored from Bahir Dar. Often compared to Victoria Falls, the 45 metre high waterfall has four courses and is known as the Smoke of the Nile. With a complementary spray-soaked ecosystem that has evolved over thousands of years, the falls are not to be missed.
Best visited on our typical northern historic tour of Ethiopia.
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Six monasteries are easily accessed from Bahir Dar on a half day boat trip to the Zege Peninsula. A full day is needed to visit the 3 more intriguing monasteries in the centre of Lake Tana. The much venerated northern monasteries are best accessed on a separate trip from the town of Gorgora. Conservative traditions here don’t permit woman travellers from entering some monasteries.
The Ark of the Covenant is a chest said to hold the Tablets of Stone given to Moses by God. The most treasured artefact in the Jewish faith until it disappeared after the destruction of Solomon’s temple. It’s said to have been kept at the island monastery of Tana Chirkos before being transferred to Axum where it’s kept under guard near the Church of our Lady Mary of Zion. (Well maybe)
The Blue Nile is one of the two major tributaries of the Nile River rising from Lake Tana. Several feeder streams flow into the lake but the sacred source is regarded as a small spring at Gish Abbai. Whilst the Blue Nile feeds most water into the Nile River the primary source and headwater of the Nile itself is on the White Nile traced to a stream at the base of Mount Kikizi in Burundi discovered in 1937.