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The Lake Tana monasteries

Lake Tana was formed due to a volcanic eruption that took place millions of years ago and cause lava to flow blocking over 60 Rivers and streams of water which led to the formation of the Tana Lake. The lake is a habitant of different aqua species, animals and birds and these are mostly seen during the wet season. Lake Tana is located in the Amhara region where the earliest inhabitants of the area the people who practiced Judaism. But after being killed and hunted down for many years, many of them were taken to Israel to preserve their religion.

The Lake Tana monasteries were constructed in sites which had earlier religious buildings that were destroyed in the earlier centuries. The different monasteries that are found in Tana include the Ura kidane, the Narga Selassie, the Tana Qirqos and the Debre Maryam. These monasteries are believed to have been constructed many years ago and before you visit them, there a few rules that you need to know that govern them.

  • Some monasteries are not open to the female sex and therefore you need to find out which ones have equal access.
  • When entering the different monasteries you are required to remove your shoes.

The reason as to why some of the monasteries are separated and allow only males is that they still follow the old tradition of Judaism where the women are not supposed to pray from the same room as the men and this was done so as to avoid temptations from the opposite sex.

The monasteries are used as places of worship and keepers of the treasures in Ethiopia which are both cultural and religious. When you get to the churches, you will be welcomed by the live in monks who will take you on a field trip through the monasteries both within and outside where you will get to see the uniqueness of these buildings.

When you enter into the monasteries, the inside of the churches is separated into three parts and these are decorated differently so that they are easily separated from each other and these include:

  • The inner sanctum, this is used by only priests and it is not open to the public. It is where the Tabot and the Ten Commandments are kept.
  • The outer ambulatory, this is open to the public and you sit here and admire the works of paintings that are found inside the monasteries.
  • The inner ambulatory, this is not accessible to everyone but when one needs to communicate to the congregation and do any announcements, this is where they are carried out. It is only used by those known as the communicants.

The different monasteries that are found in the Lake Tana region include the following;

The Dega Estefanos

The Dega Estefanos is believed to have been constructed and founded by a saint who used a boat that was made of stone to sail across the ocean and land in Ethiopia in the 12th Century. And as you get to the monastery you will find part of the boat that is still visible on the path leading to the monastery. The Dega Estefanos monastery is only open to men and was constructed in the 19th Century by a saint. There are several monks who live in the monastery and these will guide you as you explore the inside of the church and just because it only has entrance for the male species, this does not mean that it has all the interesting stuff. The monastery is a home to five of the mummified bodies of former Emperors in Ethiopia and the painting of one the Madonna which was done during the 16th Century and many more other treasures that hold high values to the Ethiopian culture and government. The monastery is not very far away from the others and you can easily trek to them if you still have time.

The Tekla Haimanot monastery

Surrounded by a forest, the Tekla monastery is next to the Bete Selassie. It is just a few minutes from the Bete Selassie and they have the same look and the paintings that are found in the Bete Selassie are the same that are found in the Tekla Haimanot. It does not have much to offer but the trek is a good one that can keep you fit and you can also have a great view of the surrounding forest too. Make sure that you bargain highly with the tour guides who will be with you as you head to the Tekla Haimanot because they usually overcharge you even when the distance to the monastery is not long.


The Azuwa Maryam monastery

The Azuwa Maryam is not very far away from the landing as it is just a two minutes’ walk as soon as you leave the ferry. The Azuwa has a school where priests and deacons can go for their studies and it is the only monastery which is grass thatched besides the Bete Maryam. It is small as compared to other monasteries in terms of museums and settings but it has a lot to offer especially if you are a fan of history and the decoration that is found within the buildings in terms of paintings is also to die for.

The Tana Cherkos monastery

The Tana Cherkos monastery was constructed many centuries ago and it is believed that the Ark of the Covenant of God was kept in this monastery for over 800 years although the original church was destroyed and a new one erected during the 19th Century. It is located up on a hill and it is only a 30 minutes’ walk up although getting there will take you roughly two and half hours by boat. It is a perfect destination for all those that want to know more about the Covenant of God and history that relates to the bible and you will also get a chance to admire the different paintings that can be seen on the walls of the church.

The Kebran Gabriel monastery

The Kebran Gabriel is one of the few monasteries that are open to both men and women although at the moment it has been closed down to the public. The only thing that is open to the public is the museum which has paintings and old historical books about the Ethiopian history and the beauty about visiting this monastery is that it is along the trail that leads to the Zege peninsular which is another scenery that you will want to see when you visit the Tana monasteries.

The Bete Selassie

The Bete Selassie is located at the Zege peninsular and it is just a few minutes away from the shores of the Lake Tana. No one knows when the original church was built but the inside of the church was reconstructed in the 18th Century and the paintings that are found in the paintings that are found inside the church date back to the 19th Century. The Monastery is rich in history and it has one the best paintings as compared to other monasteries.  As you head out with your tour guide, you will find many monks who live in the monastery and these will give you a clear picture about the church and the rules that you are supposed to follow when inside.

The Ura Kidane Meret

The Ura Kidane Meret is the largest monastery that is found on the Lake Tana and it is one of the most visited too. When you get to the Ura Kidane, the only beautiful and most enticing thing to look at is the inside due to its wonderful decoration and paintings, different crowns and crosses which are always on display in the inner sanctum. It is just twenty minutes away from the landing and as you move outside the monastery, you will get a chance to look at the recently opened museum which showcases a lot of things dating back to almost 400 years ago.

Besides looking at the different monasteries that you get to see when you visit Lake Tana, you will also get a clear view of the Blue Nile outlet. The Blue Nile outlet flows through Ethiopia to South Sudan where it meets up with the White Nile and it is used by many tourists to travel to the different monasteries located in the area. The Blue Nile outlet is not only used for transportation but it is used as a source of water to the people, birding takes place here and you can easily relax from its banks after a long day as you enjoy the sunset.

The Lake Tana monasteries were constructed using medieval ways and materials and besides having some of the best art in form of paintings, you leave the monasteries with enough knowledge about them and why they were constructed. For more details about the monasteries you can contact us through our website where we will provide you with the best itineraries.








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