Ethiopia’s main concentration of rock-hewn churches – more than a hundred individual sanctuaries – lies in the northeastern part of Tigrai Region. Many of these are highly atmospheric, timeworn edifices whose compact candlelit interiors, often decorated with ancient ecclesiastic art, are soaked in spirituality. Tigrai’s rock-cut churches mostly predate those in Lalibela – oral tradition dates the oldest excavations to the fourth century, while academic opinion inclines more towards the tenth – yet all but a dozen remained unknown much beyond their immediate parishes until the 1960s.

Tigrai’s churches are more scattered than their counterparts in Lalibela, and many are located near the top of the sandstone cliffs and outcrops that characterize the region, making them very scenic but also hard to reach. This isolation also ensures that the churches tend to make fewer concessions to tourism: visitors are routinely turned away from one church or another because the priest with the key happens to be on walkabout, and are also often refused entry before, during or after a mass (depending on the local tradition). As such, a degree of flexibility and patience is a prerequisite for exploring the region, as is a little forward planning.

The springboard for exploring the area is the rather scruffy town of Wukro, which sprawls along the main road between Adigrat and Mekele. The most important cluster of churches lies 20–25km to the northwest of Wukro, near the smaller town of Hawzien, site of the superb Gheralta Lodge.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Ethiopia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

17 striking portraits of Ethiopia's Omo Valley tribes

17 striking portraits of Ethiopia's Omo Valley tribes

Renowned the world over for its decorated tribes, the Omo Valley is a stop on many a tourist route in Ethiopia. But visits to the area can cross ethical boundar…

20 May 2016 • Tim Draper insert_drive_file Article
Ethiopian Christmas celebrations in pictures

Ethiopian Christmas celebrations in pictures

Today Ethiopia is celebrating Christmas. Following the Julian calendar, this East African, Orthodox Christian nation celebrates Christmas on the 7th January eac…

07 Jan 2016 • Karoki Lewis insert_drive_file Article
Exploring Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

Exploring Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

In preparation for the new Rough Guide to Ethiopia, the book’s editor, Edward Aves, travelled to the remote and little-visited Bale Mountains National Park.…

18 Sep 2014 • Edward Aves insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month