Visit in Ethiopia lets you experience Africa’s most populous land locked country and Africa’s second most populous nation, second only to Nigeria. It is a country steeped in such rich culture and heritage dating back to the first men. Remains of some of the oldest skeletal evidence of modern humans have been found in Ethiopia. It is located in the “Horn of Africa” and is surrounded by countries like Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya. With a rich history, Ethiopia draws multiple tourists from all over the world. A major tourist attraction in Ethiopia are the rock hewn churches.
These churches are majestic, impressive and of course, historical monuments and landmarks. In no particular order, here are the top ten rock hewn churches in Ethiopia.
If you’re interested in a tour of Ethiopia, whether an Ethiopian luxury tour or any of the other luxury tour packages, you should see one of Ethiopia’s many rock hewn churches.
Located in the Amhara region in Ethiopia, Lalibela Churches is a cluster of eleven churches carved from a singular rock with no external building materials used.
It was built sometime in the 7th to 13th century, typically dated to have been built under King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela’s command who had the idea to build another Jerusalem in Ethiopia when routes for pilgrimages were cut off by the Jihad. And even until today they are used for pilgrimages and local religious traditions.
Each one of the eleven churches is a splendor of architecture that has gone untouched for close to eight hundred years and was preserved by UNESCO as one of its heritage sites. It is a beautiful sight to behold and a once in a lifetime experience for any Ethiopian tour.
Abuna Yemata Guh
Located in Howzen Worenda in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. If you are the more adventurous tourist, this place is perfect for your wild adventures. The churches of the Tigray region served two purposes, one; it served to bring the worshipers as close to heaven as possible. Two; It served to hide the church away from the prying eyes and armies looking to ravage and plunder Christian treasures.
This church was built and dedicated to St. Yemata in the 6th century and is filled with paintings depicting scenes from the old and new testament.
The paintings are in exceptionally good shape considering the age of them. Scientists found that the unique atmosphere of the church which is located about 8,460 ft in the air is responsible for its pristine conditions. It’s a slice of history that has gone untouched for centuries. One definitely worth visiting.
Get ready for the amazing adventures in climbing the Abune Yemata Guh Church. It is placed at 2580 meters up high and requires a steep climb and walking next to deep drops of more than 300 meters to reach the church. But it is well worth the climb!
Rock hewn church is semi monolithic. This simply means that it is partially carved from the rock face which means you can’t walk around the entire church on the outside. The almost simplistic exterior conceals an almost gargantuan interior with vivid paintings such as the famous depiction of Jesus Christ in the utero.
Also, The church also boasts cruciform pillars and arches that are covered in 17th century frescoes each as beautiful as the last. Plus, views from the top are breathtaking. This stop should definitely be on your Ethiopia itinerary.
Yemrehana Krestos Church
Yemrehana church is located just 12 miles from Lalibela. It was built in one if the largest North East facing caves in Ethiopia in the Abuna Yokefleet mountains.
It is actually one of the most elaborate, if not the most elaborate ancient church in Ethiopia. It is also one of Ethiopia’s best kept secrets, why? Simply because the journey to it is a hard day long foot trek. Not for the faint of heart but so worth it.
Daniel Korkor is a church close to Maryam Korkor. It is located in the same Mount Geralta. The entrance of this unique church is tucked into a wall facing a sheer drop.
The interior of the two room church is decorated in paintings done with natural berry pigments that have somehow stood the test of time. While this church is small, it is no less of an exciting experience and the views from the top are exhilarating.
Abune Gebremchael is another church found in the Geralta mountains. If you’re looking for a challenge, this church is perfect for you. It is carved very high, into seven meters of sheer cliff face.
Most tourists are asked to use ropes but if you’re already an established climber, this should be both challenging and exhilarating for you.
Keshia Medihanialm [Holy Savior] Geralta Mountain
Above church is one of the less visited churches in the Tigray region and while it does require a bit of climbing to reach it is one of the more accessible churches in the region. The route goes through some tricky terrains and some climbing to reach the top but once you get there, the view and vista is completely worth it.
The church itself borrows some heavy byzantine influence which gives vivid scenes that enrapture the casual observer. Finally, a unique detail of the church is the locking mechanism to open the front door where a wooden stick with a rope is balanced through a hole in the door to push open the lock on the opposite side.
The Church of Abreha and Atsbeha
One of the oldest and most popular churches in the Tigray region is this church. It is said to have been built by two brothers who were the first to receive Christianity in Ethiopia. The church is beautifully carved into the side of a rocky cliff. According to historical records, the church was hewn out of a singular piece of rock by King Atsbeha with his twin brother and co-ruler King Abreha between 335 and 340 AD.
It boasts its rich antiquities and treasures collected since it was built. It is also rumored to be the burial place of kings who built the church. Do not let morbid curiosity lead though because it is rumored that the last priest to open the coffins of the rulers had his hand burnt by supernatural fire. True or false? Well you can always make the trip and decide for yourself.
Located 500 meters from Wukro, this church is easily one of the most accessible monolithic churches. It is rich in history, from signs of damages on the ceiling from a raid by Jihadist Ahmed Gragn to the fact that it was built to celebrate the martyrdom of Kiricus of Tarsus, this church has been around for ages. It is a staple for Ethiopian tourism, one not bound to leave soon.
Debra Damo is a sixth century monastery and church located at the top of a tabular mountain. It houses some of the earliest existing Christian manuscripts and the oldest original church building in Ethiopia. It was founded by Abuna Aregawi and only accessible by climbing a rope on a sheer cliff side. The kicker? Only men are allowed to visit.
Our bucket list of top ten rock hewn Churches to visit in Ethiopia are not for the faint of heart but if you dare, these destinations are perfect for the adventurer in you.
Check out these Absolute Ethiopia tours that feature a visit to rock hewn churches: