The Northern Circuit
Kibran – Northern Circuit Attractions
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.
Good to Know
Recommended length of stay: 2 nights
Elevation (Tigray): Ranges between 1,200 to 2,800 meters (about 3,900 to 9,100 feet) above sea level
Major Religion: Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity
Largest concentration of stone churches in Ethiopia
Where to Stay when in Gheralta, Ethiopia
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.
Good to Know
- 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.
Top tourist sites to visit when in Gheralta
ROCK-HEWN CHURCHES OF GHERALTA
Of the area’s 121 churches, around 30 churches occur in the Gheralta cluster, mainly between the towns of Wukro and Megab. Some of the highlights of this cluster include Abuna Yemata, Abra Atsbeha and Maryam Korkor. Some are famous for their stone workmanship, ancient frescoes and manuscripts; others for their magnificent settings or even their difficult ascent. The churches, though steeped in history, are still functional to this day.
Located within the Gheralta cluster, the remote Abuna Yemata church dates back as far as the 5th century AD. What puts Abuna Yemata on the top of the list of churches to visit in this area is not merely its beautiful frescoes or ancient relics, but rather its dramatic location. Carved into a cliff face of the Guh Mountains, Abuna Yemata can only be reached by climbing up using footholds and handgrips that have been chiseled into the rock face. Just before reaching the entrance to the church you will need to edge along a narrow rock ledge, from which you can view a sheer drop of approximately 250 to 300 meters. The interior is characterized by rock-hewn arches and cupolas, decorated with well-preserved frescoes.
ABRAHA ATSBEHA CHURCH
Easily accessible from the town of Wukro, Abraha Atsheba church is one of the churches in the Gheralta cluster. Also known as Abreha-we-Atsheba, this semi-monolithic church was named after the twin-brother kings, Abreha and Atsbeha, who are believed to have been the first Christian kings in Ethiopia. They reigned over the ancient Axumite kingdom in the fourth century CE. The church is cruciform in shape, with a double-arched entrance and other interesting architectural features. The interior walls are covered in colorful and well-preserved murals.
Just beyond Maryam Korkor, perched on top of a sheer precipice, you will find Abba Daniel Korkor.
TIGRAY MOUNTAIN SCENERY
Nature, Trekking and Birding
Local Attractions – Gheralta
Gheralta Area Photo Gallery
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