ROCK-HEWN CHURCHES OF TIGRAY
Hidden from the rest of the world, the highlands of Ethiopia have hundreds of rock-hewn churches and monasteries, with all their mysteries and precious relics.
Before 1966, the rock-hewn churches of Tigray have been described by the British academic Ivy Pearce as the greatest of the historical-cultural heritages of the Ethiopian people. Most of these architectural gems remain in active used today, several house paintings and other sacred medieval artifacts, and every one of them is imbued with and aura of spirituality that seeps from the very rock into which they are carved.
Axum is an ancient town in northern Ethiopia. It lies at an elevation of about 2100 meters just west of Adwa in Tigrai region. Once the seat of the kingdom of Axum, it is now a tourist town and religious center best known for its antiquity’s tall granite obelisks, 126 in all, stand (or lie broken) in the central square. Once measuring 33 meters, now fallen, is said to be the tallest obelisk ever erected.
The obelisks range from nearly plain slabs to intricately inscribed pillars. Door and window-like shapes are carved into some of the pillars, giving them the appearance of slender buildings. The most recent of the obelisks announces the adoption of Christianity in the 4th century by king Ezana. At least 27 carved stone thrones have been unearthed in the overgrown ruins of the ancient palace.
Al-Najashi is a small village located 60 Kms East of Mekele, the Capital of Tigray region. It is Anonymous with Islam as it is the place were the first mosque was constructed in Ethiopia.
It also serves as enduring reminder of the warm welcome extended by the Ethiopian king of the time when those Muslims including the family of the prophet Mohammed fled from persecution in their own land found refuge in Ethiopia during the early years of the Seventh century.
Gondar is 50 kilometers north of Lake Tana, 783 kilometers north of Addis Ababa and nestles in the foothills of the Semien mountains at an altitude of 2200 meters above sea level. Gondar, founded by King Fasiledes in 1636, was the capital of Ethiopia for nearly 200 years. This fact is reflected by the number of palace buildings in the castle compound.
LALIBELA ROCK-HEWN CHURCHES
“By vast expense and hideous pain, the rock a church became”, wrote a historian in the 17th century. Lalibela is also described as the “African Petra” or “New Jerusalem“. Undoubtedly the 12 rock hewn churches, whose construction started during the reign of king Lalibela (13th century), are one of the foremost wonders of the world.
The legend tells that Lalibela received a heavenly vision and angels helped to finish the work in a short time. But it is more likely that Lalibela received his inspiration during his exile in Jerusalem, which gave him a longing to built a kind of “new Jerusalem” in Ethiopia, accessible for all Ethiopians.
Lying in the rugged Lasta mountains it is still a rather isolated place and the little town has not changed since the building of the churches 700 years ago. When your walk around in the perfectly shaped churches, using the underground tunnels to go from one church to another and hearing the distant chanting of the monks, you feel as if a time-machine has brought you back to a mysterious middle age world.
In the rough mountain landscape which surrounds Lalibela, interesting tours can be made, walking or on the back of a donkey, to enjoy the splendid views on your way to the several rock-hewn churches in the environs of Lalibela.
Bahir Dar is a modern small town on the southeastern shore of Lake Tana in the north of Ethiopia. It hosts the fabled Blue Nile falls, the beautiful highland Lake Tana and 14th-century island monastic churches.
It lays on a altitude of 1850 meters and has a very nice center with wide lanes, surrounded by palm trees, lots of gardens and tropical flowers and plant.
From Bahir Dar you have to explore some of the ancient monasteries that have been built around Lake Tana or on the many islands in the lake. There are 37 islands dotted all over the lake and 30 of them house churches and monasteries of great cultural and historical interest. They contain beautiful manuscripts, objects of worship and crosses dating back to the dawn of Christianity.
STELE SITE OF TIYA
The Stele site of Tiya in Gurage Zone is registered in the UNESCO world heritage list as world heritage sites in 1980. Tiya is distinguished by 36 standing stones or stelae. They are marking a large, prehistoric burial complex of an ancient Ethiopian culture.
The site contains more than 40 ancient stelae. The largest of which stands up to 3.9m high. They form only one cluster and are intriguing and mysterious. Almost nothing is known about the monoliths carves or their purpose. Most of the stones are engraved with enigmatic symbols, notably swords. French excavations have revealed that the stelae mark mass graves of individuals aged between 18-30 years.