Trekking to Tigray in northern Ethiopia and tour to the rock carved churches of Gheralta mountains

January 2, 2011 

The journey in Ethiopia continues from the Danakil desert to the Ethiopian plateau, precisely in the region of Tigray, where among the picturesque mountains of the Gheralta massif, there are numerous churches carved directly into the rock. We do also a spectacular trek, to discover the churches of Myriam Koror and Daniel Koror.

It 's been only one day from the excursion on the Salt Plains in Danakil desert, where at times it was difficult to spot even a single blade of grass, and now, just few hours laters, we are projected into a completely different world. This beautiful Sycamore (Ficus sycomorus) grows on the Ethiopian plateau at an altitude of 2200 meters.
Rock carved church Tigray
Tigray - Ethiopia

Tigray pictures. The tour continues from the Danakil depression, to the region of Tigray in northern Ethiopia, known for the presence of many churches carved directly into the rock. The first rock church that we visit is Atsbeha Abraha, about 50km from the town of Wukro, at an altitude of 2200 meters, from where there is a beautiful view into the surroundings.
Religious ceremony
Preparations for the celebrations of Coptic Christmas, which falls on January 6 / 7 in Ethiopia.
Monolitic church

The Church of Abraha Atsbeha was built by digging inside the mountain, and, dated back to the tenth century, is one of the oldest and most important monolithic church of Ethiopia.
Abraha Atsbeha Frescoes
Abraha Atsbeha church

The interior of monolithic church Abraha Atsbeha is adorned with frescoes dated from the seventeenth century, most in excellent conditions, representing various saints and biblical scenes.
Tigray monolitic church

The interior of this rock carved church measures about 60x13 meters and contains 13 pillars supporting the ceiling (actually, the mountain on the top). It is dedicated to the famous king of Axum, which have imported the Christianity in Ethiopia in the fourth century.
Abraha Atsbeha rock church

Ohter pictures of Abraha Atsbeha.
Ethiopia Gheralta
Gheralta massif
The tour in Ethiopia between the rock churches of the Tigray region, continues through the countryside and the Gheralta massif, a picturesque group of mountains characterized by suggestive shapes created by erosion.
We decided to visit two rock churches on top of this mountain belonging to Gheralta massif. The climb proves to be enough exhausting, but very spectacular.
Ethiopia trekking
Ethiopian plateau
We are already quite tired but, on the other hand, at just a few feet of altitude, a fantastic view of the Ethiopian plateau opens.

Also because of the thin air of altitude above 2000 meters, the climb becomes even more difficult, as we move between claustrophobic, but picturesque, corridors of rock.
The rock carved churches are on the top of this mountain. Looking at the other tourists, which appear as small dots on the vertical wall of the mountain, I wonder what might have prompted people to build two monolithic churches in a place where there should be only eagles and goats.
Gheralta - Ethiopia

However, continuing the climb through narrow passages in the rock, the view of the mountains and the plains below Gheralta becomes increasingly promising.
Trek to Ethiopia
Soon I realize that probably the most interesting part of this trip lies in the beauty of the landscape that opens the way up, rather than in visiting the rock churches themselves.
Myriam Koror church
After a strenuous climb which took almost an hour, finally I see the outside of the Myriam Koror rock carved church.
Ethiopia plateau

Gheralta pictures. The view from the top of the mountain is absolutely spectacular, one of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen in Africa.
Tigray trekking
Meanwhile, other tourists walk onto the narrow path that seems to be hovering in the air.

The panorama opening on the opposite side of the mountain just climbed, is absolutely spectacular and majestic. Groups of children play without fear on the impressive cliff.
Gheralta trek
Me with my personal guide who gave me an hand during the ascent and descent. The view on the immense plateau of Ethiopia is truly magnificent.
Priest house

On top of the mountain there are some houses, also dug directly into the rock, home to the Coptic priests who administrates the two churches. To minimize the amount of food to be transported up here, the priests raise a few animals and cultivate small piece of land, currently burned by drought that characterizes this time of year in northern Ethiopia.
The trek continues along a ridge of rock that leads to a cemetery and to the tiny church of Daniel Koror.
Cemetery Tomb with human bones
Daniel Koror

Above, a small cemetery carved into the rock, where there are some graves containing human bones.On the left, the tiny church of Daniel Koror, where you can not enter and for which I can "steal" a photo taken only through a crack in the front door.
Natural sphynx
Looking back, I noted this rock resembling the Egyptian Sphinx.
Rock carved church Maryam Koror
The tour continues with a visit to the monolithic church of Maryam Koror (or Myriam Koror) consisting of 12 columns, 7 arches and countless frescoes of the twelfth century in good conditions.
Monolitic church Fresco
Rock church

Rock carved church pictures. Picturesque views inside the church of Maryam Koror, built by digging directly to the rock of the mountain.
Difficult trek
After the tour to the rock churches we go back, retracing the difficult path that is sometimes simply tracked on the almost vertical wall of rock.

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