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MAZ Tour

TIGRAI, DEBRE DAMO AND THE ROCK HEWN CHURCHES

The monastery of Debre Damo is located 86 km to the north-east of Axum on the peak of Debre Damo at a height of 2,800 m above sea level and is one of the most important holy places of Ethiopia.

Local legend has it that the monastery was founded by Abuna Aregawi, one of the nine saints, with the aid of a serpent. There are still some 80 monks living there and access to the monastery itself is gained by climbing up with the help of a rope (only men are permitted to enter)

Between the cities of Adigrat and Mekelle there are over one hundred twenty rock hewn churches, including some that are older than the churches in Lalibela. Most are carved out of the rocky walls of pre-existing caves. Local tradition attributes most of the churches to the Axumite kings Ezana and Atsbeha of the fourth century, but historians are convinced that they date from a later period.

One of the most famous of the churches, Abune Yemata Gerhalta, may be reached only after a climb of about an hour, the willingness to undertake which is said to be “proof that you truly believe in God”. The church is famous for its extraordinary view and for the splendid frescoes it contains dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, which are well preserved.

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