Sacred Landscapes of Tigray

Photo in the Public Domain.

Sacred Landscapes of Tigray is part of the Tentative list of Ethiopia in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

The Sacred Landscapes of Tigray comprises 80 rock-hewn and a small number of timber churches dating from the 5th to 14th centuries. They are spread out over three areas: Geralta, Tembien and Atsbi. The churches are also remarkable because of their wall paintings. Their preservation and continuous use show the living survival of the oldest forms of Christian monasticism.

Map of Sacred Landscapes of Tigray

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

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Wojciech Fedoruk

Poland - 24-Jan-24 -

Sacred Landscapes of Tigray (T) by Wojciech Fedoruk

Of the places proposed by the state party, I visited only one, although probably the most spectacular - Abuna Yemata Guh, part of the Gheralta Sacred Landscape.

The Eastern Churches were fond of building temples in difficult places, but Abuna Yemata Guh was probably the most inaccessible of those I had ever seen (a few hours later I visited Debre Damo, which is even more inaccessible). To get there, you have to climb an almost vertical rock wall. Fortunately, local residents make money by helping visitors and in this case they offered harnesses, rope support and personal assistance in the most difficult parts. Without this help from our family, only I would be able to climb, but I wouldn't feel good without any protection. This is definitely not a place for people afraid of heights, you walk along a narrow ledge where you can't even put two feet next to you, and a false move ends with you falling several meters lower. And next to the church you stand on a rock ledge without a railing, where you can fall not just a few, but at least several dozen meters down.

Somewhat exhausted, we finally reached the top. Fortunately, what we found there more than made up for all the hardships. Abuna Yemata Guh, according to tradition, was founded by Abuna (Abba) Yemata, one of the so-called The Nine Saints of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as early as the 5th century AD And it is from this period that the wonderful paintings in the tiny church on the rock come from. Interestingly, the paintings are apparently original, i.e. there was no need to renovate them, correct colors, etc. Scholars wonder how such vivid colors survived for sixteen centuries almost intact.

And the Bible with the goatskin pages kept here is approximately as old. The monk present here constantly takes out such a unique copy and shows it to visitors - something unthinkable anywhere in Europe.

To sum up, we visited an absolutely unique place, one of the most spectacular and interesting places in all of Ethiopia. I'm rooting for Ethiopia to propose it for inclusion on the WH list, it deserves it like few other TWHS.

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Full Name
Sacred Landscapes of Tigray
Religious structure - Christian
2018 Added to Tentative List

2017 Preparatory Assistance

Funding not granted (was only for Yeha)

The site has 3 locations

Sacred Landscapes of Tigray: Gheralta Sacred Landscape (T)
Sacred Landscapes of Tigray: Tembien Sacred Landscape (T)
Sacred Landscapes of Tigray: Atsbi Sacred Landscape (T)
WHS 1997-2024