Gher’alta: Home of Ethiopia’s spectacular rock-hewn monasteries

In Ger’alta, called the “Ethiopian Arizona” (Gerster, 1968), almost all of the mountains’ contain one or more rock-hewn churches.

Gher’alta – A spectacular red-rock landscape reminiscent of the American Southwest provides a refuge for dozens of tiny rock-hewn monasteries scattered through the mountains. Trekking is the main activity, but the region also boasts some of Ethiopia’s best wilderness lodges.

The rock- hewn churches

Ethiopia is one of the few places in the world where rock-hewn churches exist. Ethiopia is also a country with a long, rich, fascinating, and mysterious history known only to the locals or curious wanderers. As a result, historical masterpiece which should be considered wonders of the ancient world or at least World Heritage sites, remain hidden from the outside world. Some of these sites include the rock-hewn churches of eastern and central Tigrai, northern Ethiopia.

The rock-hewn churches in Tigrai were first revealed to the world in the early 1960s by an Ethiopian Catholic missionary, Abba Tewolde-Medhin Yosef (Gerster, 1968, 1970).

Although there is uncertainty about when the churches were carved, it is likely that the churches in the Ger’alta – Hawzen area were sculpted during the reigns of Emperor Kaleb (A.D. 510-558) and his successor Emperor Guebre-Meskel (A.D.558-584).

Panoramic view of the Gheralta Mountains, with the Hawzien Plain below.

Most of the churches are hewn into facades of cliffs and caves. Few churches are monolithic (with four free-standing walls;) The interiors of the churches represent basilica architecture with three naves and a vestibule. Most of the churches have pillars, vast ceilings, archways, and domes. Magnificent rock carvings, designs, and ancient religious paintings on walls and ceilings make these churches particularly interesting.

Accommodation:- Very clean and comfortable resorts and lodges available in Ger’alta and star category hotels available in Mekelle, Adigrat, Wukro and Axum.

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