Bahir Dar: the Riviera of Ethiopia

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 | Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Murals in the Ura Kidane Meret monastery depict scenes from both the Western and Ethiopian Orthodox Bibles.
Our northward drive continued Monday to the city of Bahir Dar, which we reached in time for lunch. Bahir Dar sits on the edge of Lake Tana, and is generously characterized as "Ethiopia's Riviera", though it seemed a bit more rough around the edges than some other rivieras I've seen.

We pitched our tent on the grounds of the Ghion Hotel, beside the lakeshore, and spent the afternoon relaxing and watching the birds (an eclectic mix of parakeets, vultures, pelicans, hornbills, seagulls, fish eagles, pigeons, and plume-tailed songbirds) clatter through the treetops.

A rumbling four-wheel-drive, all-terrain tour bus pulled up as we were arranging our tent, and dumped out a few dozen British, Australian, and American tourists (including a fellow Baltimore native—against all odds, it somehow happens everywhere). They were traveling from Cairo to Capetown with Dragoman Tours, and having been cooped up with each other for many days, were
even happier than we were to chat with someone new.

Jacqueline and I joined their group the next morning for a boat ride to one of the many monasteries that dot the islands and shores of Lake Tana. The Ura Kidane Meret monastery, like most in Ethiopia, is round, and built around a central sanctuary (the maqdas) closed off to all but the monks. The monastery was built in the late 1500s, our local guide explained, and houses a number of "priceless religious things" (which were hidden away in the maqdas, unfortunately).

But for visitors, the walls of the inner sanctuary are the monastery's principal draw. They are adorned with centuries-old paintings of Biblical scenes in the distinct Ethiopian style, today vividly touched up by local artists.

Over a solid hour, the guide led us full circle, pointing out scenes like St. George's slaying of the dragon, Noah's construction of the ark, Jesus's resurrection, Moses receiving the ten commandments, John the Baptist's beheading, and a number of others that are found only in the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible (which contains about 20 additional chapters).

The visit to the monastery was the main event of our two days in Bahir Dar, which we left today, bound for other destinations further north.


Patrick Elliot said...

My friends are starting a popsicle business in D.C., and one of their proprietary flavors is Avocado Cream. It's delicious, you should try it! -- although luckily it's meant to be licked, not drunk.

Andrew G. Farrand said...

nice! i'm willing to give alternative avocado forms another try... i'll keep an eye out for the popsicle cart this spring :)

lindad said...

I'd like to include this photo in a textbook my company is working on (Murals in the Ura Kidane Meret monastery). I would like to know if you are able to grant permission for such use. Please contact me at
Thank you,

StreamAfrica said...

Hey,nice post.Bahir Dar (significance: sea shore) is one of the main tourist destination in Ethiopia,with assorted attractions in the Lake Tana and Blue Nile river.Because of the way that Ethiopia doesn't have a right to gain entrance to the sea,Bahir Dar is known as the Ethiopian Riviera.Best wishes.~Amanda Carter.

Post a Comment