Hiking up the Tigray churches
The Tigray churches are located in the highlands of Ethiopia in the North Eastern part in the towns of Axum and Makele. They were declared a UNESCO heritage and they are the oldest Orthodox churches in Ethiopia and they are a bit hard to access especially if it is your first time to access them. The churches in Tigray amount to over 120 in number and these are divided into five main groups. The groups allow you easy access to the churches because you cannot visit them one at a time as it is extremely hard for one to see one church at a time.
The Tigray churches are believed to have been built using hands and from rocks which makes them a good site to visit for anyone who loves adventure. Most tourists visit the Tigray churches to get to know more about the ancient churches, trekking up the mountains in the Tigray and meeting up with the locals. Sometimes we do not want to take tour guides with us when visiting the different places in Ethiopia but if you have decided to visit the Tigray churches, then you will need to go with one because they will help you while climbing up the mountain, translate for you when there is need and tell all the history that you need to know about the churches.
The Tigray churches are like caves and they are believed to have been constructed in the 15th Century and they were all constructed at the top of the Mountain. The journey up to see the churches is quite hectic in that you will reach a point where you will have to rock climb with your bare hands before getting to your final destination.
You can get a tour guide to take you to the Tigray churches but the best way to ensure that you have the best of the trips to the Tigray churches, you will need to get a tour company to help you and this is where we come in. we will help you with the best itinerary for your trip and we will ensure that you enjoy your stay in Ethiopia.
What you need before travelling to the Tigray churches
There are different things that you will need before you venture out on your journey to the Tigray and we have written some of them down so that you are not caught unaware when you visit the area.
- Hiking boots, these will help you when hiking up the Mountains in order to get a clear view of the churches. These will help you so that you do not slide on your way up.
- Toilet paper, this is a necessity as many places in the Tigray do not provide and that is why you should come with yours and in plenty.
- A good camera, the camera will help you capture all the good memories that you will see when both within and outside the churches.
- A tour guide, a tour guide is a must because they will help you as you climb the rocks and also translate for you whatever you do not understand.
- Appropriate clothing, you will need to put on trousers that will ease your climb up the rocks and protect you from getting scratched as you hike.
- Sunscreen, the churches are located in an area which experiences a warm weather and therefore you should carry sunscreen to protect yourself from the scorching sun.
Hiking up the Tigray churches
Hiking up the Tigray churches is not for the faint hearted due to their elevation but after the long hike it will be worth it. There are various reasons that are given to explain why they are located high up and some locals say they were built up high so that the monks were closer to heaven while others say they were built up high so that the priests and monks had a lot of privacy from the rest of the world.
The hikes that lead up to the churches greatly depends on which churches you are going to visit although it is common knowledge that all the trek routes are hard to use. You just need to know how strenuous they are and prepare accordingly. Below are the churches and the treks that take place before you get to them.
- The Abuna Yemata
The trek to the Abuna Yemata is shorter and much better to take a compared to the trek that leads to the Maryam and Daniel Korkor. It might seem shorter and easier but it is also not for the faint hearted because at the start of the trek, you will walk normally uphill and after 30 t0 40 minutes you will be required to remove your shoes and climb up the rock without ropes but there will be tour guides who will help you as you are rock climbing.
The top of the hill is the best especially after the long trek and you will get to see the most beautiful church nestled in the hills. The church is also as small as the other two and the wall paintings that can be seen inside the church are what you will not see anywhere else in the world.
The priests who help to keep the church safe and well maintained will show around the tiny church and you will also get to see scriptures that were written on goats’ skin and are believed to be over 1000 years old. Many people enter the church and spent most of their time meditating due to the peace that is felt in the church.
- The Maryam and Daniel Korkor
The hike up the Maryam and Daniel Korkor takes over one hour and half before you reach the top and it is over 300 meters high.by the time you get to the top after the long hike you will be extremely tired but the view that can be seen as you are ascending the hill and the one of the churches that you will find on top will be worth it.
The two churches sit at the top next to each other and they both give off a peaceful ambiance just by looking at them. The two churches were originally built as prayer rooms for the monks and when you go inside the two churches you will be blown away by the spiritual paintings that decorate the walls.
Of the two churches the Daniel Korkor is the smallest but it has the best paintings of the two, the best decoration and receives better sunlight as compared to the Maryam Korkor. The tour guides will tell you more about their history and any other thing that you will want to know about them.
The Gheralta church group
The Gheralta church group is one of the five church groups and it is the most visited group especially for those who have little time. Even though there are several groups, the mostly used group is the Gheralta church group as the rest are ignored because they are not easily accessible.
It is located near the Hawzen and easily accessible and that is why it is the most commonly visited in the whole group and when you visit this group you will be entertained by three Tigray churches which include the Daniel Korkor, the Abuna Yemata and the Maryam Korkor.
The churches are worth the visit but that can only be reached by those who are adrenaline fanatics or those who are strong enough to brave the hike up the churches. But be warned not to look down if you are afraid of heights after reaching the top because you might fall down and yet there are no safety barriers in place to keep you safe. It is extremely hard for you to access the churches if you do not have a tour guide and therefore you should get one before you travel to the Tigray churches.
Besides trekking up the Tigray churches, there are other things that you can do when you visit the Tigray area in Ethiopia and these include:
- Meeting up with the locals
The locals that live around the Tigray churches are worth your visit. They have a unique culture that you will experience and they will tell you more about the churches. Although no one is quite sure about when they were constructed or how old they are, the locals can give you different ideas that will help you understand them more. You will also be able to buy yourself some souvenirs that are made by the locals from the shops.
- Visit the museums
There are two main museums that are found in the Tigray region and these are the Archeological museum Axum and the emperor Yohannes IV palace museum that is located in the Mek’ele. The museums showcase the different cultural regalia that dates back to the earlier centuries and when you visit them you will be able to learn more about the Tigray.