Long acknowledged as the source of the Blue Nile River, Lake Tana is Ethiopia’s largest body of water, with a surface area of 3,673km², a surrounding drainage of 11,650km² and a maximum depth of 14m. It is located in the Amhara Region, in a depression of the northwest plateau 1,800m above sea level.
Volcanic activity which blocked the course of inflowing rivers in the early Pleistocene times about five million years ago was responsible for the formation of Lake Tana which is fed by seven permanent rivers and about forty seasonal brooks.
From the 14th to the 16th century, the Lake Tana area played an important role in maintaining the Christian faith against contemporary pressure. There are thirty-seven islands on Lake Tana with about thirty of them have churches and monasteries dating back to the 14th Century.
Decorated with religious paintings and imagery, these churches became stores to art treasures and religious relics from all over the country, because of their isolation. It is claimed that the original Ark of the Covenant was hid in one of the islands when Axum was under siege. Entry into some of the churches by women is not allowed. Although they can come to the island, they are not allowed beyond its banks.
The wetland and riverside forests of Lake Tana area with its rocky crags, attract various species of local and migrant birds, making it a great spot for bird watching, a hotspot of biodiversity. It has been listed as an Important Bird Area (IBA) which led to the creation of the Lake Tana Biosphere Reserve in 2012.
In June, 2015 Lake Tana Biosphere Reserve was among the list of twenty new sites added to the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserve.
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