Mekelle, Atsbi, Gheralta, and Axum 1

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Duration – 5 nights and 5 days

Transportation – Drive and Flight

Accommodation – 1*, 2* and 3* hotels and best lodge available

Tour Code: ATT-CH-0039

 

Trip Highlight

This is a Four days Cultural and Historic Tigrai tour with-in Tigrai which passes through the scenic highlands of Tigrai, visiting the historic, archaeological, political, cultural and religious destinations of Tigrai . The trip covers mainly the following attraction sites:

  • Mekelle, the political, Socio-Economic, religious and event center of Tigrai
  • Gheralta Range, known for the Rock-Hewn Churches and breathtaking landscape
  • Yeha, the pre-Axumite palace known for its oldest Pre-Christian temple in the Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Axum, an ancient historic and archaeological site with steles, old palaces, tombs and the Ark of the Covenant and the Zion church.
  • Adwa Mountains, called the Pride of Africa, a historic landmark where the Battle of Adwa took place with the subsequent Ethiopian victory over the Italian aggressors.
  • Atsbi, is rich in undiscovered churches hidden in the ountains with impressive architecture and paintings.
  • Adi Akawih, Pre-Axumite archaeological site recently discovered around Wukro.

 

DAY 1 – MEKELLE CITY TOUR

After a relaxed morning breakfast, take a city tour of Mekelle, founded by Emperor Yohannes IV as his capital, after he relocated his power base from Debra Berhane, to Mekele in 1881.  Mekele is also the capital city of the Tigray National Regional State. Late this afternoon we will take a Mekelle City Tour. We will view to the impressive DejatchAbraha Castle built in the heart of the city around 1906. Today the castle is a hotel.   We will also stop to visit the Hawelti (Monument of the Martyrs) erected to dignify the valiant fighters who sacrificed themselves to emancipate their people from the dictatorial military regime (1974-1991).   The artistic tower, spiraling more than 100 feet above the ground and mounted by a large ball, is visible through much of Mekele. This is the centerpiece of the large war memorial. The memorial is modern and engrossing.  As you enter, on each side, there are larger than life figures representing the victims and victors of the war. Appropriately black and stick like, the figures include mothers and children trekking out from the famine, several of them not making it. With them are the hardy Tigrain fighters, machine guns over their backs and trusty donkeys in tow. These peasant fighters overcame the Soviet backed might of the Derg military regime.

 

Later after a lunch break, we will visit historical Atse Yohannes IV Palace, which is named after the famous King who ruled Ethiopia from 1872 to 1889. Emperor Yohannes chose Mekele as the seat of his government and built his graceful palace, still intact, in the 1870s. The palace now serves as a museum and is highlighted by the Emperor’s throne, the royal bed, his ceremonial dress, rifles, and many other valuable historical collections.  The fantastic throne of Atse Yohannnes IV was made by the Italian engineer Giacomo Nareri in 1874 and it is the eye catching centerpiece of the museum.   After our visit we will take a scenic flight to Addis Ababa and end of service.

 

DAY 2 – DRIVE WUKRO VIA ATSBI

After a morning breakfast, drive to the direction of Atsbi and visit Mikael Imba which is of similar design as Abraha Atsbeha and Wukro Cherkos. With an interior area of 140 square meters, the church is perhaps the most spacious of all the rock churches in Tigrai. The top of the pillars are graced with stepped capitals, the ceiling is meticulously decorated with intricate patterns. Incised in relief, a large Greek cross adorns the ceiling.  In terms of decoration and finishing, Mikael Imba is “an artistically finished church.”

Later after a lunch break in Atsbi, visit Mikael Debre Selam is undoubtedly one of the finest churches in its architectural design. It is a church within a cave. The central door leads in to the anteroom with three huge built columns, a beautiful freestanding arch and striking Aksumite “Sandwich Style” constructions (a layer of wood then a layer of stone, painted alternating in black and white). The woodwork of the door and window shutters is exquisitely decorated in geometrical patterns including swastika-like symbols. Especially the middle window shutter is decorated with a 15th century wooden painting of the Virgin Mary and the Child. The ends of the protruding part of the wooden beams are round in shape and their presence adds beauty to the church. It is also known for its wealth of paintings, which can be seen on the walls and arches of the sanctuary, if one asks the priests specifically for it (bring a torch!). The art influence, according to Pearce, is Byzantine. Finally, drive to Wukro for your overnight. If time permits, visit the archaeological museum visit the newly well established archaeological museum of Wukro. This museum has interesting collections of Pre-Axumite Sabean artifacts from Adi Akawih and other sites. Most of the collections. Interestingly, you will visit the newly excavated pre-Axumite site of Adi Akawih. The site is situated near the town of Wukro. This site has ancient objects such as a statute of seated women   and at its base is an altar with Sabean inscription and a partially inscribed podium. According to a translation by Prof. Nobert Nebes, the inscriptions mention the ancient Sabean-Ethiopian kingdom of D’m’t, the god Almoqah, and for the first time the well-known pre-Axumite temple, ‘Yeha’. On the basis of these same inscriptions, the objects are dated to 7th -6th century B.C. The Almoqah temple of Yeha is much larger than the Almoqah temple of Adi Akaweh, but a good comparable one is the Almoqah temple in Melazo near Axum.

 

DAY 3 – DRIVE GHERALTA

After a morning breakfast, drive to Hawzein; en route visit Abreha we Atsbeha. This church was built in the 4th century by two royal brothers, Abreha and Atsbeha (known in the west as kings, Ezana and Saizana), who were responsible for converting Ethiopia to Christianity. The church is large and cruciform in shape, with interesting architectural features such as cruciform pillars and stepped capitals. There are also well preserved 17th century paintings depicting saints and biblical scenes. The church contains many valuable masterpieces including a beautifully decorated prayer cross, said to have belonged to Frumentius, the first Bishop of Ethiopia, whose ecclesiastical name was Abba Selama, meaning the father of peace.

After a picnic lunch break at Megab, visit Debre Tsion. It is about 40 minutes’ walk from the escarpment. It is a monastic cliff church carved in to a rusty sandstone face. It has an impressive and unusually symbolic exterior. The interior of the church is lovely decorated. The back walls of the holy of holies, the domes and wall panels are abundantly decorated with fine painting of saints and Apostles. Especially the dome is beautifully adorned with patterns. Because of the simplicity of the lines and colors, the paintings are estimated to be of the 15th century although the church officials prefer to date it, in the 14th century. A 15th century unique circular ceremonial fan (one meter in diameter) with wooden framework makes the visit to this church special. Each of its 34 panels is finely painted with figures of Apostles. Its walls are decorated with many geometrical designs and carvings in relief depicting Angels and Saints. It is indeed a manifestation of the great stone workmanship that was common in the whole of Tigrai both at that time and before.

DAY 4 – DRIVE AXUM

After a morning breakfast, drive to Medhane Alem (Saviour of the world). The church can be reached through a combination of asphalt and dirt roads through Freweyni via Hawzein. To access the church you climb a slope of exposed sandstone. It is covered with potholes which local people believe to be the hoof prints of St. George’s horse. This church is one of Tigrai’s oldest and finest rock-hewn churches. Its exterior and interior walls are roughly hewn, which only makes the elaborately carved coffered ceiling much more special. It is quite possibly the oldest rock-hewn church in Tigrai, or anywhere in Ethiopia.

 

Take a lunch break at Adigrat and proceed to Debre Damo. Damo monastery is situated on an isolated mountain in northern part of Tigray. It is unique compared with most Ethiopian monasteries. Debre Damo was built, in the sixth century AD, with curved wood panels, painted ceilings and walls dedicated to the legend of Saint (Abune) Aregawi. The history of Debre Damo is centred on the “Nine Saints” who came to Ethiopia from Syria to spread Christianity in the Tigray region. One of them was Saint Aregawi who settled on the mountain of Debre Damo. Debre Damo is magnificent in terms of its location and extensive collection of priceless manuscripts that have remained intact to today. It has become a prominent monastic and educational centre for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Debre Damo is only accessible by climbing up by a rope, which is made of “plaited leather”, lowered from the cliffs, which visitors tie around their waist and are then pulled up by a monk at the top of the cliffs. It is only accessible to men and male animals. Women and even female animals are forbidden to set a foot into the monastery, and must remain under the cliffs and pray from there.

Finally, visit Yeha. This city was founded at least 2,800 years ago and served as the capital of a pre-Axumite empire. The well-preserved stone temple was built 2,500 years ago. It also served as a center of a monastic Christian community in the early 6th century. A modern church built next to the temple ruins contains some of the ancient temple stones and its treasury contains illuminated manuscripts and crowns. En route to Axum through the dramatic highland landscapes of Adwa where the Battle of Adwa(1896) took place which is a land mark to the Black World is in your attention.

 

DAY 5 – AXUM CITY TOUR

 

After an early morning breakfast visit Axum, recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980, Axum is a testament to the rich and glorious past of the mighty Kingdom of Axum (2nd C. BC-700 A.D.). This morning the visit will start with the famous Stelae field with its Axumite stelae in various sizes and shapes. The archaeological museum is nearby and it offers an opportunity to bring context to relics on view today.

 

In the afternoon, you will visit the Kaleb and Gebremeskel tombs, dating to the 6th century A.D and on the way to town, the Ezana inscription (Ethiopia’s Rosetta stone) is worth visiting.  Tradition has it that the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia in the 10th century BC by Menelik I and later Ethiopian kings and emperors would proclaim their legitimacy to rule by their lineage to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  Through the day we will discuss the development of Christianity in Ethiopia and its relation to the Ark, and the story of Queen of Sheba too.