Tigray Rock Hewn Churches

The Tigray region of Ethiopia is rich in history dating back to the first civilization within Ethiopia. Emperors once ruled from the Tigray region. During the fifth century, the missionaries later called the Nine Saints, descended on Africa in what is now Tigray. For centuries, this region played a major role in Christianity. The major draw to Tigray are the rock hewn churches, some of the oldest churches in the world.

 

Tigray Rock Hewn Churches. Check out more at www.beardandcurly.com

A priest guiding us to Abba Yem’ata

Rock Hewn Churches of Tigray

There are several clusters of the famous rock hewn churches. Some are off the road, while others require hiking up a mountain. Some even require a little rock climbing. The churches were built hidden in the mountains between the fifth and seventh centuries. In our opinion Gheralta mountains have the best cluster. The beautiful scenery alone is worth a visit.

Tigray Rock Hewn Churches. Check out more at www.beardandcurly.com

Hiking in the Gheralta cluster

Gheralta Cluster

The most popular cluster and one of the most historical requires some hiking to get to the best churches. Don’t miss the Abuna Yemata Guh, which requires some agility and good climbing skills. Also visit the Maryam Korkor, this church includes a beautiful hike with stunning views.

 

Takatisfi Cluster

Easily accessible from the road, these churches can get busier with tourists and locals (mostly claiming to be guides). Don’t miss the Madhane Alem Kesho Church. Skip Teka Tesfai, where tourists are known to get bombarded by locals demanding money.

Tigray Rock Hewn Churches. Check out more at www.beardandcurly.com

A hidden cave

Wukro Cluster

Smaller but an easily accessible cluster, with very nice churches.  The best churches are Abraha We Atsbeha and Wukro Cherkos.

 

Costs

Each church costs 150 or 200 Birr for entry. Priests expect tips between 10-20 Birr.

Tigray Rock Hewn Churches. Check out more at www.beardandcurly.com

Painted ceiling of the Nine Saints in a church

Aksum

This historical town was the second civilization in Ethiopia. Ruins, tombs, and obelisks over 1,600 years old mark the old town. Aksum is most famously known for a small chapel that claim to house the original Ark of the Covenant, Moses’ 10 Commandments. The history, ancient tombs and obelisks make this a wonderful stop in Northern Ethiopia.

Tigray Rock Hewn Churches. Check out more at www.beardandcurly.com

The Northern Stelae field

Major Sights

  • Northern Stelae Field – used for over 5,000 years, monoliths have been used as monuments and for tombs. Aksum is one of the best places in the world to see these ancient stones. This field contains 66 stelae mostly from the third and fourth centuries, and contain the largest single slab stone ever erected. See the King Ezana’s Stelae, the Great Stelae, the Rome Stelae and several well known tombs.

  • Ark of the Covenant – within the Saint Mary’s Church compound, a small chapel holds the Ark of the Covenant. It is guarded and fenced, and no one can enter the chapel.

 

Costs

A 3-day ticket costs 50 Birr at the tourist office in town. It provides access to all sights in Aksum excluding the Saint Mary’s Church compound (200 Birr), the Abba Pentalewon (150 Birr) and Abba Liqanos Monasteries (150 Birr).

Tigray Rock Hewn Churches. Check out more at www.beardandcurly.com

Views in the Gheralta cluster

 

Around Aksum

Yeha

The first civilization in Ethiopia, nearly 3 millennia ago, has several ruins still in tact. This ancient city is very impressive, including a walled city, temples, churches, and a museum.

Note: Yeha has been under renovation for several years and is not worth visiting until the renovations are complete.

Cost: 100 Birr

 

Debre Damo Monastery

One of Ethiopia’s most important monasteries, perched on top of a mountain, the highlight of this men’s only sacred space is when the monks tie you up and help you climb up a 15m (45 feet) cliff.

Cost: 200 Birr entry and 50 Birr for the monks

Tigray Rock Hewn Churches. Check out more at www.beardandcurly.com

Inside Maryam Korkor monastery

 

Where to Stay

There are a few options to stay when visiting the churches. The closest towns to the clusters are Hawzien or Wukro. Both are small towns with only a couple options for food and accommodation, but allow for better access to the churches. Another option is to stay a few hours away in Mekele and hire a private car for the day.

  • Hawzien – Vision Hotel has nice rooms and wifi for 300 Birr.

  • Wukro – Hewan Pension is a good option for 250 Birr.

  • Mekele – LK Pension has rooms with ensuite for 300 Birr and shared bath for 200 Birr.

  • Aksum – Unlike what many guidebooks say, do not stay at Africa Hotel. There is a history of bed bugs and it continues to be a problem ignored. Stay nearby at The Ark instead, with rooms from 250 Birr.

Tigray Rock Hewn Churches. Check out more at www.beardandcurly.com

A priest

Important Things to Know

Getting Harassed

Many guidebooks will tell you about potentially getting harassed at the rock hewn churches in Tigray. This is still true in some places. Locals will demand money for just about anything, and most likely for nothing. This is getting better, and in the past Gheralta was known as the worst, however it is no longer an issue in the Gheralta cluster.

Hiring a Guide

Hiring a guide is beneficial for several reasons. Many churches require hiking and the guide will ensure you find the church. Guides also act as a buffer against locals harassing you. Lastly, they can inform you of the history and unique facts about the churches and the area.

Tigray Rock Hewn Churches. Check out more at www.beardandcurly.com

Hiking to Abba Yem’ata

Hiring a Scout

At several hikes, including all Gheralta cluster hikes, scouts will be at the bottom of the trail. Scouts can be hired to help on the hike for assistance. Some hikes have sections of bouldering or rock climbing. Unless you want to hire them, clearly state you are not interesting in hiring a scout. They may continue to follow you on the hike. In Gheralta, scouts are required to be at each trailhead by the government. There has been a push in recent years to rid of locals demanding money, and one of the responsibilities of the scouts is to keep locals off the trails.

 

Hiring a Car

Some churches are along the main road, however most require a a private car or taxi. 4×4’s are available for hire from Gheralta Lodge. The other option is to rent a private car/taxi. Minibus drivers will all negotiate rates for private hire. It is easiest to find a driver at the minibus station and negotiate a price between 1,000 and 1,200 Birr for the day.

 

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Published on 02/04/2017 by Beard and Curly. Visited in October 2016.

 

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