Rock-hewn churches of Tigray

Tigrai, Ethiopia’s northern most region, has more than 120 rock-hewn churches. May these churches are built on the beginning of carving rock for making churches. It was in 1966 that the churches of Tigray area became known for scholars and visitors. It was very few of them klnown before.
The rock churches are found in Gheralta, Tsaeda Imba, Atsbidera, Haramat, Ganta afeshum, and in many other places scattered unevenly over an area of 180 x 140 kms. Ivy pearce, one of the noted academic authorities in the field, writes, “the Tigre rock-hewn churches are more interesting to visit on account of the fact that one can see antiquity in people, things, places and ceremonies unchanged for over a thousand years.” She also ranked them as “the greatest of the historical- cultural heritages of the Ethipian people.”

Gheralta, northwest of Mekel, is the home of a quarter of the rock churches, some famous for their stone workmanship, ancient paintings and old manuscripts, and others known for their magnificent view and difficult ascent. Such great churches as Abune Yemata (Guh), Mariam Korkor, Debretsion (Abune Abraham), Yohannes Maequddi, Abune Gebre Mikael and Selassie Degum are in the very heart of Gheralta, making it the home of rock churches of Tigrai.

The scenery of Gheralta is spectacular. The view of the graceful Mount Gheralta and the far-reaching Hawzien plain is a rare combination of extraordinary beauty. Georg Gerster, the Swiss photographer, in his book churches in Rock writes, “Gheralta with its ‘western film’ scenery of mountains, seems to be a kind of Ethiopian Arizona An Arizona,however, without motels or desperadoes. But nevertheless an eldorado with the choice intellectual pleasure of constantly stimulation and satisfying the passion for discovers”

Gheralta can now be approached either from the town of Wukro, 47 kms north of Mekelle along the highway or from Senkata, 83kms along the same road. The important points in the area (Abraha Atsbaha, Degum, Megab and Hawzien) are now all connected by a new road and inaccessibility seems a fast forgotten thing of the past.

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