Hidden Churches of Tigray

The rock churches of Tigray are hidden away high up on cliffs and inside the side’s of hills and mountains. They are carved right out of the stone themselves, a very difficult task to achieve. They are located in the north of Ethiopia, and it’s not easy getting around to see the rock churches, as the area is spread out and many are located high up on cliffs.

The rock churches were built into the side of mountains, and high up on cliffs, 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 see many of the rock churches it is best to rent a car, as public transport is almost non-existent to reach them. And many of them will have to be climbed, high up into the mountains, so a relative level of fitness would be needed.

The scenery is beautiful, and with eagles soaring overhead, and baboons jumping around the rocks in some parts, it is ideal to do a little trekking. Those who are not good with heights, would have some difficulty getting to some of the churches however. 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.

Local girls in the countryside posing for photo with the guide

Inside the rock churches in Tigray are the usual frescoes and paintings depicting ancient Christian scenes. The priests will show you around and the guide will translate. It is 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, wether by car or foot.

Outside a rock church

Inside a rock church

The sunsets here are also spectacular, in the peace of 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.

Locals climb to pray at rock church at sunset

How to get to the rock churches in Tigray.

It’s best to try and share the costs of a trip out here, by meeting other travellers in Aksum or Mekele, the two main cities in the region. Here you can rent a car, preferably a 4wd for the terrain, although a minivan is perfectly acceptable. Most hotels can help arrange a trip, if in Aksum the Africa hotel is good. You can either fly to these cities form the capital Addis Ababa, or take the buses and minivans, if you have the time and patience. Two days and one night will give 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.

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