Duration – 4 nights and 5 days
Transportation – Drive and Flight
Accommodation – 1*, 2* and 3* hotels and best lodge available
Tour Code: ATT-CH-0041
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 the direction of Axum and en route visit Mariam Wukro at Edaga Arbi which is the rock church. The church is not fully separated from the rock face, and only the southern façade is visible from the exterior. The interior has richly decorated walls and ceilings. There are three doors, two of them leading into nave and the third leading to the priests’ chamber, called Kine Mahlet. This chamber is highly decorated with stone bas-reliefs and relatively recent paintings. The western and southern parts of the ceiling have large, carved Greek crosses, and the northern and the central part of ceiling have geometrically perfect domes. The ceiling is supported on two free-standing pillars. The Interior of Mariam Wukro Four free–standing pillars with pilaster capitals on top, plus another 10 wall-pillars support the ceiling. On the western side of the holy of holies, one can see a window–like opening in Aksumite style, very much reminiscent of the windows of the Lalibela churches. It is witnesses by many scholars as “without doubt a great example of Tigrai architecture”
Later, visit Aba Gerima Monastery: This is an active monastery situated in the womb of one of the Adwa Mountains. It was established in the sixth century and has about 150 monks and valuable religious treasures. Particularly there is a manuscript kept in the small church treasury museum which is believed to be the oldest one in the country if not in Africa and even one of the oldest in world. The monastery is contemporary to Debre Damo. Nearby there is a tomb of the famous African General, Ras Alula Aba Nega which worth a visit. En route, you can stop for Ethiopian coffee ceremony at farmer’s house and is one of the most enjoyable events you can attend at an Ethiopia. The coffee is taken through its full life cycle of preparation in front of you in a ceremonial manner. Coffee is called ‘Bunna’ (boo-na) by the Ethiopians. Finally before your arrival in Axum, stop in Adwa to discuss the Adwa Mountains where the Battle of Adwa(1896) took place and considered as the land of the continent, Africa.
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.