Abuna Yemata Church, Éthiopie
2 days - July 2019
After leaving the hell and furnace of Danakil, we reach the heights of the Tigray region and especially the province of Gheralta and its troglodyte churches.
We are about to discover another facet of the country with landscapes strangely similar to the American far west! Cactus, arid landscapes, red cliffs, Ethiopia calls for hiking!
And with one goal: to reach troglodyte churches perched at the top of the cliffs.
Indeed in the 6th century, Ethiopian monks decided to isolate themselves from the world to better communicate with God. And to be closer to him, they concluded that it was necessary to be closer to the sky and thus they built more than 130 churches straight in the rock.
With what methods and tools did they dig into the mountain to reveal cupolas and domes? The local priests will answer that God alone is at the origin of the churches and our guide conveys this message so we will dubitative of the methods used ...!
At the bottom of the cliffs, many rice and teff crops used in making Injera, the basis of our food consumption in Ethiopia. We meet many shepherds but also pilgrims.
The villages are isolated and have trouble developing with the (too) many power cuts.
We begin our discovery with an ascent in the Korkor valley, with the goal of visiting Maryam and Daniel Korkor. 2h30 of hiking under a blazing sun, across a section of the fractured mountain that leads us straight to the sky and two churches dug into the rock. The 360 degree view of the surroundings is amazing!
Arrived at the top, we must obtain the key of the church from the monk or priest in charge.
Mission achieved, the interior reveals many religious paintings, very well preserved and many religious books dating from the 13-14th century. What an heritage!
Small stop at the back of the house of a villager to eat shiro and Injera and we leave in the direction of Abuna Yemata Guh. Perched 300 meters high, victims of vertigo must abstain!
The climb begins with a 7-meter wall to climb. High place of pilgrimage, natural catches have been shaped into the rock over time. If Cédric goes up like a monkey without harnesses or protections, I will equip myself and follow the advice of the locals who improvised themselves climbing teachers. I do not have time to think and find myself up in less than a minute, placing one hand after another onto the wall.
Going down, however was not that easy... I found myself stuck at 7 meters in height, in an uncomfortable position and difficult to maintain in the long term. I didn’t panic but wahoo I was high !
This perilous free-climbing session was accompanied by walking (barefoot I remember that we are in a sacred place) on steep sections, other walls were scaled to barefoot, we are surrounded by the void and at 300 meters high now! The pilgrims and the priest (not very young ...) realize this ascent on a daily or minimum weekly basis, for baptisms-the new born in their arms-, burials and various celebrations.
The reward at the end of this effort: a priest welcomes us and opens the doors of a troglodyte church, with an intact dome, dating from the sixth century and dedicated to Abuna Yemata, one of the nine Syrian saints. The paintings of a few centuries younger are intact and paint the arrival of Christianity in Ethiopia in the fourth century.
Then the priest takes one of the books on the floor and presents us with a Bible dating from the 13th century, intact too.
Captivating moment, we are speechless facing this heritage that must be earned (risking our lives!).
# The Village of Hawzen is a perfect base to discover the best preserved churches.
# from Mekele to Hawzen: 2h30 public bus for 45 birr per person.
# in Hawzen we stayed at Vision Hotel. Ok and above all has a generator! (the power was cut more than 24 hours over a period of 48 hours during our stay!). 500 Birr a night.
# There is also the Gheralta Lodge at $ 50 USD a night but we were very poorly received and we ran away.
# to feed in the village, there are very few options! Good luck ;)
# we chose to visit three churches: Maryam and Daniel Korkor and Abuna Yemata Guh. To get there, you have to rent a car / driver and take a guide (which we thought was mandatory by law but useless in his explanations ...). Guide to 600 birr the day. Car + driver negotiated at 1200 Birr (8 seater car!) We wanted to go there by tuktuk but apparently they are blocked by the police on this stretch of road.
# we do not recommend our guide (we have forgotten his name by the way) for his brief explanations and especially he spent the day begging for Cedric's shoes!
# each church entrance is set at 150 birr per person.
# for Daniel and Mariam Korkor, it is mandatory to take a scout who accompanies us all along (method for the villagers also benefit from the financial windfall of tourism). It is recommended to give him 150 Birr.
# for Abuna Yemata Guh: Scouts are present at the bottom of the first Free-climbing wall with harnesses. We used their services for 200 birr in all.
# the priest also asks for a small tip around 150 birr. Business is business ...
# Go there early in the morning, heavy rains begin around 4 pm every day.
Sep 21, 2019 - 08:17 AM
coucou, merci pour la découverte, Angie