These 16th and 17th century monasteries do not look like anything we expect a monastery to look like. First of all, they are circular building. Straw maps shield the walkway that circles the very church. The top of the roof is adorned with a heavy iron cross, often decorated with ostrich eggs. The inside of these monasteries are decorated with the most spectacular colorful wall paintings, telling the story of the bible and many more legends.
The many images of heads being chopped off, people being palled, devils burning disbelievers and so forth give testimony of a national passion – Ethiopians’ obsession with martyrs and their immense suffering for Christianity.
At each church local guides explain the images. The gory ones they like best. On one of the ancient paintings the eyes of the torturers had been scratched out. Angry children we were told, getting back at the disbelievers. This and many other rituals we were able to observe hint that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has an influence beyond our comprehension. Priests squat at the entrance of each monastery and collect the 50 Birr / 3 USD entrance fee. Apart from that they look grim, as if all these visitors were a big nuisance.
Originally we had big plans, a day trip to the monasteries on the outer islands. Luckily we only opted for the short version around the peninsula (150 Birr / 10 USD per person). That lasted almost the entire day! Maybe the 25 PS engine simply could not move the 14 passengers any faster. Besides, after visiting four monasteries, we were overdosed by colorful images and could not see ourselves spending more time in churches.