Practically unknown to other Ethiopians –let alone the out side world -before 1966 the rock hewn churches of Tigray have been described by Ivy Pearce as “the greatest of the historical cultural heritage of the Ethiopian people”. Most of them are still in active use as center of worship and prayer. Many have paintings and medieval artifacts. These churches primarily don’t function as tourist attractions. Almost half of these churches have gone unseen by foreigners because the Tigraian churches are more scattered and less accessible than their counterparts at Lalibela.
Some of the rock hewn churches of Tigray are easily accessible and lie along the main road between Wukro and Sinkata. This group of rock hewn churches which include Teka Tesfai Cluster (Adi Kesho Medahane Alem) Wukro Cherkos and the magnificent Abreha we Atsebeha on the Hawzien Road can be explored by driving in a private vehicle either from Adigrat or Mekele. Alternatively, diversions can be made to Atsbi Clusters that include the rock churches of Michael Barka, Michael Imba, and Debre Selam or Tembien. For many Tigreans, Tembien is a place from which honey and butter are easily fetched, not in trickles but in abundance. For others, it is the mother of great war-winning heroes like Emperor Yohannes IV and Ras Allula Abba Nega. Yet many others remember it for its unique and fascinating dance, ‘Awris’. However, very few realize that Tembien is also the site of about twenty rock- hewn churches. Gabriel Wukien, Abba Yohanni, Amanuel Mai-Baha, Mariam Hibito, Abba Selama and Mariam Itsewto are some examples.
However the most extensive cluster is found in the Gheralta region which lies to the south of Hawzien. Gheralta is the home of a quarter of the rock churches, some famous for their stone workmanship, ancient paintings and manuscripts, and others known for their magnificent view and difficult ascent. Such great churches as Abuna Yemata, Mariam Korkor, Debresion, Yohannes Maequddi, Abraha Atseha, Abune Gebre Michael, and Silasse Degum are in the very heart of this cliff. This group includes some of the most stunningly situated churches anywhere in Ethiopia. This cluster of churches can be explored best from Hawzien using a private vehicle and a few days walk and hiking to reach some inaccessible churches.