The Tigray Rock Churches are hidden away high up and inside the side’s of hills and mountains in the Tigray region. 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.
Tigray Rock Churches Tour
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.
The scenery is beautiful, eagles soar overhead, baboons jump around the rocks in some parts. It is an ideal place to do a 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.
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 to many churches as they can become very similar after a while, although some are more impressive than others.
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.
Arriving in the morning light to a monastery with the mist and clouds wrapped around the surrounding hills, is a scene of complete tranquility.
And the people come out to pray.
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.
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.
After mass the people slowly depart and go about their daily activities. About a 30 minutes 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 dry and 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 going up and down without any rope attached to them. But then again they have been doing this all their lives.
Obviously this is not a welcome sight to those who are not comfortable with heights. And even more annoying for females because they are not allowed to enter at all, as this a monastery just for men.
How to get to the Tigray Rock Churches.
It’s best to try and share the costs of a visit by meeting other travellers in Aksum 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 form the capital Addis Ababa, or take buses and minivans if you have the time and patience.
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!
Interested in more on Ethiopia? Check out my Ethiopia travel guide
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