What is there to discover around Gorgora?
Ever since the 16th century travellers returning from Ethiopia have been telling stories about ancient civilisations, extravagant kingdoms and strange and wonderful buildings. And visitors today are equally impressed. Northern Ethiopia is known for its rich history. Between the 13th and 17th centuries many orthodox Christian kings and princes left an abundant heritage of palaces, castles, monasteries and churches. What is interesting is that traditions and customs from that time continue to be observed in many churches and monasteries up to this very day. Gorgora itself is surrounded by a rich variety of historical sites.
Aside from cultural attractions there is also the countryside to enjoy. The sources of the Blue Nile, the Simien Mountains National Park and the bird paradise of Tana Lake are also well worth visiting.
Gorgora and Lake Tana
The village of Gorgora, immediately adjacent to the campsite, also has plenty of places of cultural interest. It has a church dating from 1334 (rebuilt in 1608) that boasts beautiful Coptic frescoes. A few kilometres away from the campsite you can find the ruins of the 17th century palace and of the cathedral of Emperor Susenios. From the ruins you have a beautiful view across Lake Tana.
The campsite is on the banks of Lake Tana, a natural lake fed by a multitude of rivers and streams from the northern highlands. The lake has 37 islands, twenty of which have 16th and 17th century churches and monasteries. They are still in use and many of them can be viewed.
The nature in and around Lake Tana is also overwhelming. The lake itself is known for its abundance of bird species. Along the shore and on the lake’s islands there are ancient trees in which many species of birds, such as weavers, brood and hatch their young. The lake also attracts any number of water birds including fish-eagles, ibises, storks, silver herons, pelicans and kingfishers. You can see these birds on the campsite as well. Aside from birds, the lake is home to hippo, baboons, antelope, Nile lizards, hyena and many other species. From the campsite we can show you the best places to view Lake Tana’s rich fauna.
Sixty-seven kilometres from Gorgora is the historic city of Gondar, often called the Camelot of Ethiopia because of its medieval palaces, castles and churches. Its chief attraction is the 17th century walled city of kings, where more than ten kings each built their own palace. A famous site is King Fasilidas’ bath, which is the site of the annual Timkat festival during which the historic baths are filled with water. Throngs of people then immerse themselves in it to celebrate the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan. Gondar is also home to the Debre Berhan Selassie Church. With its magnificent murals and painted ceilings, it is often said to be Ethiopia’s most beautiful church. A market is held once a week in Gondar and several times a year it is the scene of major religious festivals.
The Semien are one of the largest mountain ranges in Africa, ranging in altitude from 3,300 to 4,600 metres. Along its north and west side is a staggering, 60 kilometre-long canyon. Its spectacular panoramas and expansive plateaus, strewn with giant lobelia, offer fantastic opportunities for long rambles. We can provide advice about the various (organised) walks available, some of which can take several days. The Semien are home to a number of animal and plant species you won’t see anywhere else. One particular specimen is the Gelada (‘bleeding heart’) baboon, a herbivore that will allow you to come within yards and which you cannot fail to miss. Bird species include the bearded vulture-eagle, thick-billed raven and ibis as well as a number of smaller birds such as the Eurasian golden oriole and sunbirds. The unusual Wlia Ibex (a species of goat) lives on the higher slopes and can generally be seen only in the distance. Other more common species of mammal are klipspringer, duiker, hyena and jackal. The park also contains specimens of the very rare Ethiopian wolf, but sightings are rare.
Bahar-Dar and sources of the Blue Nile
Lying on Lake Tana’s south shore is the sub-tropical city of Bahar Dar, which boasts many palm trees, an attractive boulevard and a pretty little harbour in which you can sample the day’s catch. The Blue Nile rises in Bahar-Dar and from the city you can take an adventurous walk to the river’s source. You pass through woods, picturesque farming country and across a small island, the site of Debre Mariam, a handsome old church (which is reached by a papyrus boat!). There are also excursions to the spectacular Tis Isat (‘smoking water’) falls, which are 400 metres wide and 45 metres high.
Axum is Ethiopia’s oldest city and, for orthodox Christians, its most sacred. On the edge of the city is an ancient obelisk field. The highest remaining obelisk is 23 metres high, and is hewn from a single mass of stone. On sites surrounding Axum the tombs of various warlords have been excavated, as has been the 52-room palace of the Queen of Sheba. The city’s excellent archaeological museum is richly filled with relics of the ancient kingdom of Axum. They include three-thousand-year-old inscriptions in Ge’ez, Greek and Arabic, a Roman amphora and treasures imported from Egypt. The city is also surrounded with archaeological sites. It is said that only ten per cent of what they contain has so far been unearthed.
The isolated ancient city of Lalibela is home to eleven churches. They have been called a wonder of the world as well as the ‘Petra of Africa’, because they are not built of stone but rather carved from rock. This enormous undertaking was the work of around forty thousand masons in the 12th century. The churches themselves contain major religious riches such as elaborately decorated crosses. Northern Ethiopia too has many such churches. The oldest of them, in the region of Tigray, were built in the 6th and 7th centuries.