My Ethiopian Adventure: the Monasteries of Lake Tana


Of the 37 islands on Lake Tana, 20 shelter churches and monasteries, very old monasteries, many of which remain in use today.  While some are closed totally to women, we visited Ura Kidane Mihret with no problem.  It is part of a larger complex, the Convent of Mercy founded in the 14th century.  Various buildings date from that era to more recent times.  To reach the monastery you have to climb in a boat and ride across Lake Tana to the Zege Penisula.  We boarded our small boat at the far end of this garden at the hotel–there were four of us and the helmsman–and headed across the lake. IMG_0809 On the way we passed a number of fishermen paddling their papyrus boats. IMG_0817 We also sailed past a couple of islands like this one where one monk lives alone.  On another island lives a priest.  Women are not allowed except on one, just at the edge near the dock.  We did not go there. IMG_0818 Once you arrive at the dock you hike up a hill past various vendors selling everything from religious paintings to hand woven scarves. IMG_0820 This young man used all natural materials to paint small replicas of the paintings found in the monastery itself.  In retrospect I wish I had purchased at least one; I never saw anything quite like them again. Like most religious buildings in Ethiopia, all the buildings in this complex are round.  The only place in Ethiopia where I saw rectangular churches was in Lalibela. IMG_0821 Every piece of space on the interior walls is painted with religious scenes from the Bible and Ethiopian religious history.  The current paintings date from 100-250 years ago when, as the paint began to deteriorate, they used a special process to repaint them.   This particular monastery is noted for these incredible paintings. IMG_0822 IMG_0824 IMG_0826 IMG_0827 The tops of all the buildings are adorned with different symbols for peace.  Sometimes they also represent the disciples of Jesus as well or other religious symbolism. IMG_0829   IMG_0830 A new visitor center remains under construction; it seemed nearly complete. IMG_0831 The visitor center is the rock building on the left, the monastery the building in the rear. IMG_0832 On the path back to the boat dock vendors sell scarves and jewelry.  I bought several scarves, one of which was totally different from any I saw anywhere else.  If I had only known just how unique it would be, I would have bought the other one–she had only two.  These scarves are hand loomed and in some cases the yarn is also hand spun. IMG_0833 Finally, back near the dock we stopped for coffee, indulging ourselves in the totally Ethiopian experience of their coffee ceremony.  You have not truly sipped coffee until you participate in one of these.  There is nothing anywhere quite like it. IMG_0836

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