The 120-odd rock-hewn churches that grace Tigrai – most of them in active use and with their own oral traditions – were described by academic Ivy Pearce as “the greatest of the historical-cultural heritages of the Ethiopian people”.
Though less well known than their counterparts at Lalibela, the Tigraian churches mostly predate them, and some might even date back to the 4th century.
Of the 30 churches concentrated along the sandstone Gheralta Escarpment, Abuna Abraham Debre Tsion is an atmospherically cathedralesque 6th century excavation, while Yohannes Maikudi and Debre Maryam Korkor are decorated with fine 17th century murals. But the undisputed jewel of Gheralta is Abuna Yemata Guh, a small but very beautifully painted church carved into a tall perpendicular sandstone pinnacle and accessed by a cliff face suited only to those with a head for heights.
The churches are found from Gheralta to Hawzen and from Tembien to Tsaeda Imba and Atsibi, and some of them are accessible by vehicle.