explains the Gondarene character of some of the paintings found in the remarkable
monasteries and churches on the islands of Lake Tana.
for example, originally established in the fourteenth century, was later renovated
and rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Iyasu I (1682-1706). Narga Selassie, built
in the eighteenth century by Empress Mentewab, is also Gondarene in character.
Other churches are influenced by different periods. For instance, although Ura
Kidane Mehret on the Zegie Peninsula is a fourteenth-century building, its most
powerful murals notably around the holy of holies - were painted in Gondarene
On the other hand, the centerpiece of Daga Istafanos is
a Madonna painted during the reign of Emperor Zara Yaqob (1434-68). Although medieval
by date, this work has the flowing lines, realism, beauty and tension of much
The thirty-seven islands of
Lake Tana shelter twenty monasteries - surviving remnants of an old, contemplative
tradition. Because of their isolation they were used to store art treasures and
religious relics from all parts of the country. Tradition says the Ark of the
Covenant was kept on one of these islands when Axum was endangered, and the remains
of five Emperors - including Fasilidas - are to be found at Daga Istafanos. Monks
at Ura Kidane Mehret say that more than forty tabots from churches destroyed by
Ahmed Gragn were hidden in their monastery during the sixteenth century.
Covering more than
3,600 square kilometers, Tana is Ethiopias largest lake. Known to the ancient
Greeks as Pseboa, its sometimes stormy waters are traversed by papyrus reed boats,
called tankwas, which differ little from those depicted on the tombs of the Pharaohs.