Debre Tsion Mariam Monastery

Debre Tsion Mariam Monastery (Tullu Gudo),A unique Tourist Attraction, combining Nature, Culture and People

Tullu Gudo and the Ark of the Covenant

Ethiopia is the country of diverse natural and cultural attractions, making it among the top tourist attractions in Africa in the coming few years. While some of these attractions have already been registered as World Heritage sites, more will surely be in the pipeline.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a fair share of the country’s tourist attractions. One of the attractions could be the Mariam Tsion Monastery on the Tullu Gudo on Lake Zeway. Apart from its natural beauty, the Tullu Gudo boasts to have hosted the famous Ark of the Covenant back in the 10th century.

The legend states that King Menelik I, the son of the Queen of Sheba (her family name has been Makida) and King Solomon, brought the powerful Ark of the Covenant to the Ethiopian city of Axum or nearby between 1037 to 998 B.C. E. Hidden deep within the Saint Mariam Tsion (also spelt as Maryam Zion & saint Mary of Zion) church’s sacred Holy of Holies, the Ark rested peacefully in Axum until the 10th century A.D.

when the violet campaigns’ of warrior, Queen Gudit threatened it. The legend holds that a group of people were entrusted to carry the priceless artifact to a safe place. They took the Ark far to the south, to Debre Tsion of Lake Zeway, now called Tullu Gudo, where it laid for some 72 years before returning safely back to Axum.

The people who brought the Ark of the Covenant to Tullu Gudo became known as the Zay tribes, the guardians of the Ark.  They have been living on Lake Zeway’s island for more than a thousand years and have a unique culture and unique Tigrigna – like tongue that is quiet distinct from the Oromiffa  language spoken in the surrounding areas. Although the church that once housed the Ark   of the Covenant has crumbled, the monastery still treasures over 80 manuscripts and numerous relics such as crosses and platters, dating back over 1000 years that are said to have accompanied the Ark on its long journey to the island.

However, for a long time, these artifacts were clumped in a metal box, exposed to extreme weather and potential damage, and had no suitable location where they could be displayed to tourists.  In 2011, at the request of the island community and Ethiopian Orthodox church, resources were mobilized from international donor organizations to construct a modest museum to better preserve and easily display these precious artifacts. In 2012, an Ethiopian heritage architect, Mr. Fasil Giorgis, graciously designed the new museum building free of charge, and the construction of the museum was completed in July2014 with generous financial support from the Royal Netherlands Embassy and The Christensen Fund. We (Action Tours) have been invited and participated for the Museum inauguration.

The Mariam Tsion monastery has now a new museum open to the public and tourists. This museum is full of millennium old fascinating and intriguing relics that Nature, history and culture savvy traveler shouldn’t miss. Tullu Gudo, the largest of Lake Zeway’s five volcanic islands is 6km2 and has a population of approximately 900 people.

  The people rely on the island for their livelihoods as farmers and fishermen.  The opportunity of visiting this unique island museum is enriched by hiking tourism experience which provides an interaction with local people and their daily life from farming to fishing, and from water fetching to handcrafts. Debre Tsion Mariam Monastery (Tullu Gudo) of Lake Zeway is sited at 163km south of Addis Ababa and can be visited by 1and ½ hours boat trip from the town of Zeway.

Other attractions

Lake Zeway is also a site for:

  1. Several Birds such as white pelican, Marabou, ibis and many others
  2. Tree hyrax and hippopotamus

Discover Debre Tsion Mariam Monastery (Tullu Gudo) of Lake Zeway


Program: Debre Tsion Mariam Monastery

Tour Code: Excursion 08

Duration: Full Day
Transportation: Land

After Breakfast, we drive to Lake Zeway vial Alem Gena - Butajira road.

 Melka Kunture (50 km from Addis Ababa) lies near the Awash River Gorge and is one of the most important Neolithic sites in Ethiopia.  Hand axes and various other implements have been found here.  Visit Melka Kunture and proceed to Tiya stele (88 km from Addis Ababa), acknowledged by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Here we can see the northernmost example of a peculiar type of engraved, standing stelae which stretch across parts of southern Ethiopia.  These stelae are believed to have been erected between the 12th and 14th centuries and are almost certainly grave markers - recent excavations at Tiya have revealed the remains of young people of both sexes, aged between 18 – 30 years. Proceed once more for Lake Zeway. Take lunch box from Zeway and discover Debre Tsion Mariam Monastery on the island of Lake Zeway and Several Birds such as white pelican, Marabou, ibis and many others and Tree hyrax and hippopotamus. Overnight can be in Zeway or Langano or back to Addis Ababa.

Lake Zeway was named after Zay People who have been migrated from Axum with  the Ark of the Covenant in 9 Century.  Lake Zewy,   contains five islands, including Debre Sina, Galila, Bird Island and Tulu Gudo, which is home to a monastery said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant around the ninth century.

Itinerary can be amended upon request

Action Tours

Tour Company,Addis Ababa,Ethiopia

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