Adigrat, the capital of eastern zone of Tigrai, is located at the junction of the Mekelle-Zalanbesa and Mekelle-Aksum roads. It is also renowned for the quality of its t'ej, a type of mead or honey wine. The town also offers a good base from which to explore some of the northern rock-hewn churches of Tigrai. The busy market is definitely worth visiting. It’s good place to buy Tigraian coffee pots and local cloths as well as the nationally renowned pale honey that comes from Alitena and the Beles (picky pears), which are deliciously refreshing.
Chirkos church lies in the center of the town, whose interior is covered in fine 19th century paintings depicting Angeles. The large dome in the city skyline belongs to the Holy Savior Catholic Cathedral completed in 1961. It is Italian in design with a distinctive Ethiopian flavor; look out for the paintings by famous Ethiopian painter Afewerk Tekle. There is also an Italian war Cemetery 4Km east of the town at the village of Gola’a. It commemorates some 765 Italian soldiers, many of them caduti ignoti (the unknown fallen) of the wars of 1935-38.
Traveling south from Adigrat, look out for the attractive Tigraian stone farm steads with their dry-stone walls.
A high-standard tourist lodge is opened in the vicinity of Adigrat at Agoro, about 4 km down the Adigrat – Mekelle road, located on a flat – topped hill with appealing surroundings.
Day trips from Adigrat
Adigrat would serve as a good base for exploring some of the rock-hewn churches described below.
Maryam Qiat Church
Maryam Qiat, one of the finest churches found in Tigrai, is adorned with various geometric patterns. A single finely carved wooden door brings one to the interior where many ornaments can be seen. The structure, spherical in plan, holds six free standing and six pillars fused with the wall. Unlike many other churches, the exclusive columns lean inward to form arches, an architectural fashion which allows the structure to consist of three aisles, each arched at 3 intervals, quite reminiscent of medieval European church architecture. Many carvings can be found in the church, as well as a Sabean inscription in the roof of the Holy of Holies. Faded, ancient paintings adorn some of the walls, whereas two of the pillars are decorated with old painted linen. The church can be reached by either 36km of local road and 30 minute climb on foot from Hawzien or 30 km of gravel road from Adigrat.
Maryam Bahra Church
This church is a combination of stone built and rock hewn. However smaller in size, the hewn structure like many of its kind encompasses four free and six non-free-standing columns. The individual pillars, finely patterned at their lower parts, are painted with life sized portraits of the Apostles. It is situated north east of Hawzien, after 26km of gravel road plus a 20 minute walk.
Maryam Bezuhan Church
This church is half cave and half hewn. The hewn part has two cells, each with their own decoration. The front part has a ceiling marked by large rectangle-shaped design embracing other similar patterns. It also bears large and small circular carvings united together as well as a group of square shaped ornaments. Moreover, the chamber where the Tabot resides is accurately carved to have an oval-shaped feature. Its ceiling is decorated with a carefully incised dome. Drive 24 km of local road plus 20 minutes’ walk from Hawzien.
Located 25km northeast of Hawzien, at 2500m, this church is reached after a 20 minutes ascending walk. The set of the church allows one to view a vast field lying below. The church is completely hewn from a living block of rock soaring high. It is embellished with various decorative designs. The chapel has a high ceiling and large interior which consist of 4 free standing and six non free standing pillars. All of the columns are vaulted in a manner to support the ceiling.
The church is beautiful enough to arouse excitation. The ceiling in the middle is exactly executed to have a cylinder – shaped features. It is also adorned with swastika incisions. The room where the tablet dwells has a dome-like roof. Eyesus Gwahegot, in addition to many expressive religious materials alike that of Debretsion of Gheralta, has old and new ceremonial fun carrying the portraits of apostles, saints and angles.
The Monastery of Gunda Gundo
The monastery of Gunda Gundo is one of the oldest and most famous monasteries of Ethiopia. It was founded by Stephanites in the 14th century. It has maintained ecumenical traditions and maintains good relations with Muslims who inhabit the nearby lowlands as well as with the Catholic center in Adigrat. Its immense church is one of the largest ancient buildings in northern Ethiopia. Gunda Gundo has a large library of rare manuscripts, including famous Gospels with distinctive illuminations in what is known to art historians as "Gunda Gundo style". In earlier years it is believed to have had a scriptorium which supplied manuscripts to other churches and monasteries. Among historic objects in their church, priests show a large bed that belonged to Sebagadis.
To reach the monastery, follow the signpost at the north side of Edaga Hamus. Continue 24Km along the road suitable for 4 WD vehicle to north east of Edaga Hamus that leads to Geblen, a village situated on the edge of the escarpment. From this location walk roughly 4-5 hours along a steep track that drops into a gorge below and continue its sunken path to the isolated historic site. The landscape on the way to the monastery is very spectacular. This two day trip is more than worth it if you like history, wild life and beautiful landscapes. However, it must be advised that female visitors are not allowed inside the main church.