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Exploring The Tigray Churches Of Ethiopia

The Tigray Churches are hidden away high up and inside the sides of hills and mountains in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

They are carved right out of the stone themselves which is a very difficult task to achieve.

They are located in the north of Ethiopia and it’s not easy getting around to see them, as the area is spread out, and many are located high up on cliffs.


The Tigray Churches

Tigray churches rock hewn Ethiopia

The rock churches were built into the side of mountains to protect them from attackers.

They date back to the 4th century onwards and were used by the Christians when invaders tried to wipe out Christianity in the region.

To get to many of the rock churches it is best to rent a car as public transport is almost non-existent to reach them.

Many of them will have to be climbed so a relative level of fitness would be needed.

rock hewn Tigray churches Ethiopia

The scenery is beautiful, eagles soar overhead, and baboons jump around the rocks in some parts. It is an ideal place to do some hiking.

Those who are not good with heights though would have some difficulty getting to some of the churches.

Many of the people in the region are very friendly and a good walk around the countryside is worthwhile for a few hours.

It’s best to take a guide with you so you don’t get lost and to translate.

rock hewn churches Tigray Ethiopia

Inside the Rock Churches of Tigray are the usual frescoes and paintings depicting ancient Christian scenes.

The priests will show you around, and the guide will translate.

It’s best not to see too many churches as they can become very similar after a while, although some are more impressive than others.

tigray church

The most fun churches are the ones that are more difficult to reach, whether by car or foot.

The sunsets are also spectacular in the mountains. Unbelievably the local people climb up the cliffs and mountains almost daily to pray at mass.

If you enjoy hiking and great scenery, as well as history, you will have an amazing trip to this region of Ethiopia.

tigray Ethiopia

Arriving in the morning light at a monastery with the mist and clouds wrapped around the surrounding hills is a scene of complete tranquillity.

hiking in tigray in ethiopia

And the people come out to pray.

monastery Tigray ethiopia

Local people either ascend the stairs to get close to the church where the priests gather or stay below to rest on the steps where doves fly about, adding to the ambience of the place.

monastery tigray ethiopia

praying at church in ethiopia

You could get invited inside an enclave to the side of the church while people pray outside, and a local priest can show 500-year-old manuscripts of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

priest tigray Ethiopia

After mass, the people slowly depart and go about their daily activities. 

About a 30-minute drive from the first church, one arrives at a monastery perched high on the top of a hill, with a steep drop on all sides.

The scenery becomes more arid as you slowly arrive on the winding road.

Arriving at the top there is a scramble up a few hundred steps to get to a makeshift rope system.

To enter the monastery complex itself you must ascend the ropes, which sometimes are attached to a rather ageing priest who will help you.

The local people make it look easy to go up and down without any rope attached to them. But then again they have been doing this all their lives.

monastery in ethiopia in tigray

This is not a welcome sight for those who are not comfortable with heights and is even more annoying for females because they are not allowed to enter at all, as this is a monastery just for men.

rock hewn churches in ethiopia

Getting To The Tigray Rock Churches of Ethiopia

It’s best to try and share the costs of a visit by meeting other travellers in Axum or Mekele, the two main cities in the region.

There you can rent a car which will preferably be a 4WD for the terrain, although a minivan is perfectly good as well.

Most hotels can help arrange a trip. If you start in Aksum the Africa hotel is very helpful with this.

You can either fly to these cities from the capital Addis Ababa, or take buses and minivans if you have the time and patience.

More on the Tigray region here.

Two days and one night will give you plenty of time to see several churches, and the one-night stopover will most likely be in the central area around the churches in what feels like a frontier town of dusty streets in the middle of nowhere.

Have a mystical trip to Tigray!

This is a stunning video on the Tigray region of Ethiopia to see what to expect:

 
Interested in more on Ethiopia? Check out my Ethiopia travel guide

And also why you should go backpacking in Ethiopia.

I highly recommend getting the Ethiopia (Bradt Travel Guide) by Philip Briggs guidebook for Ethiopia. On both my visits to the country it’s the one I have used.


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4 thoughts on “Exploring The Tigray Churches Of Ethiopia”

  1. Hi Jonny, thanks for the post, can you comment on how much the cost was to get to tigray and the time you spent there (car rental, other expenses)? thanks!
    Daniel

  2. I unfortunately only have a week in Ethiopia, landing in Addis, was thinking of heading to Mekele and from there do Tigray and Lalibela later and squeeze maybe Danakil Depression if I have time? Would you recommend any other itineraries for a short trip like mine? I’m more interested in seeing the culture, history.

    Thanks!
    Daniel

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