Introduction to Gheralta, Tigray
The vast, sacred landscapes of Tigray can be described as the place of pilgrims. With 121 ancient rock-hewn churches tucked into the stark sandstone cliffs and surrounding countryside, the entire area has a numinous quality. It is easy to understand why, over the ages, holy men have been drawn to its promise of silence and solitude. To this day the solitary figures of hermit monks and priests can be along the cliffs.
The area is believed to house the largest group of rock-hewn architecture in the world. Some of the churches date back as far back as the 5th century AD. The majority of the churches are located in distinct clusters, with the Gheralta cluster holding the largest number of churches. The Wukro, Takatisfi, Tembein and Atsbi clusters also contain some rare gems.
The Gheralta landscape lies north of the regional capital, Mekele, and west of the village of Wukro. The area’s scenery is nothing short of breathtaking, with a dramatic mountain massif plummeting into the far-reaching plains of Hawzein.
Due to the remoteness of many of the churches, a good deal of hiking is required. This is a wonderful way to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
HOW CHRISTIANITY CAME TO ETHIOPIA: A BRIEF HISTORY
According to the ecclesiastical histories of Rufinus and Socrates Scholasticus, the adoption of Christianity in Ethiopia dates back to the reign of Emperor Ezana, in the 4th century. Their accounts detail how a young Phoenician man named Frumentius, and his brother, Aedisius, after being shipwrecked, were taken to the court of Axum. Both rose to positions of power within the government. Frumentius was coverted to Christianity when he learned about the Gospel from Christian Roman merchants. He went on to become the first bishop of Aksum. It was during this time that Emperor Ezana converted to Christianity. The building of churches followed, with many being carved into cliff-faces (semi monolithic) or carved from single blocks of stone (monolithic), as was the building method in countries like Greece, where Christianity had existed from its earliest years.
When in Axum
The time zone in Ethiopia is East Africa Time (EAT), GMT +3.
Ethiopia has two seasons: a dry season (mid-September to May), and a rainy season (June to mid-September).
Modest dress is appropriate, especially when visiting sacred sites. Shoes must always be removed before entering churches or mosques, and women are requested to wear a head covering.
Where to say
Korkor Lodge is a 12-bedroom eco-lodge, situated near the village of Megab, in Eastern Tigray. Surrounded by the Gheralta mountains, the lodge offers easy access to many ancient sacred rock churches and other fascinating sites. Inspired by the Traditional Tigrinia building style, the bungalows showcase excellent stone masonry and are built using rock that was mined in the nearby area. Each bungalow has a private garden, a shaded verandah, and generous windows that allow you to enjoy views of the beautiful countryside. The spacious rooms all have a private bathroom and a choice of king-size or twin beds. The restaurant offers top-notch traditional and international cuisine.
Located near the village of Hawzen, in the heart of Tigray, Gheralta Lodge is easily accessible from Mekelle and Axum. The location is picture-perfect, offering magnificent views of the Gheralta mountains. The 22-bedroom lodge is owned and run by Enrica and Silvio Rizzotti, who provide a home away from home for travelers who have come to explore the ancient rock churches and other historical sites of Tigray. Constructed from locally sourced materials, using traditional Tigrayan building methods, the lodge has an authentic feel that was designed to blend in with the natural environment. Modern finishes and amenities add a touch of luxury. The restaurant offers both cultural and international cuisine.