Monastery of Debre Damo
Monastery of Debre Damo
4.5

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PetrosMarkos
Austin, TX35 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Feb 2014 • Friends
To make a three week story short, I visited this ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Monastery & Church as one of my many stops (leaving Axum). I advise arranging this excursion from Axum with a guide. When I visited, there was no paved road, but it was summer (February), a beautiful time to visit. The road was rough, but that was one of the 'rustic' elements that brought me back 2000 years plus.

Females, including animals, unless they are deceased, are not permitted access to ascend the plateau / Monastery. Don't bother arguing are try to become an activist in this wise - to become the first living female to enter. Queens and female saints are honorably buried in Debre Damo. The altitude is very high here, I don't know the measurement above sea-level, but if you are asthmatic, have a cardiac ailments, etc., bring your faith and/or be prepared. In my video, you will hear me gasping for breath after my ascension with the aid of the gate keepers. Tradition states that you must be bare-foot, but they have become lax nowadays toward this rule.

The history of this Holy Monastery's establishment can be extensive, but anyway: the rawhide rope that aids the would be visitor / resident to ascend the wall is a Symbol of the Anaconda that Saint Abune Aregawi tamed after it threatened King Gebre Meskel, his servant and the Saint. Abune Aregawi threatened the Giant Snake that if he attacked them, he was strike him with His Priestly Cross, which would inflict death. The Anaconda therefore aided the entourage to the top of the plateau, establishing the great legend. This Holy Monastery was established in the 6th Century and became a place of refuge, great development and overall history of the Church, the Region and Ethiopia Herself.

Female visitors may take the blessing of Debre Damo at Kidane Mihiret / St. Mary's Convent, located at the entrance to the wall. In the Winter (Kremt), it gets very windy, rainy and can flood here (the region). You may take pictures, but you have to pay a camera fee and I suggest that you donate to the monastery (as a blessing, it's not a must).

There is a Mysterious Water Way on the top of the plateau, very intriguing. Also, the original church has the original columns, roof and carvings intact. There is a small museum and the monk / custodian will be more than happy to show you old Ethiopian Crosses and Icons. This monastery is known for its disciplined monks, because St. Aregawi was one of the Nine Saints who fled persecution from the Byzantium Empire after the Council of Chalcedon I (451 AD). He became a student / disciple of the famous Coptic (Egyptian) monk: St. Pachomius, the father of Cenobitic Monasticism. When Abune Aregawi reached Ethiopia, he not only inspired the King at that time (Gebre Meskel), but he and the other Saints who arrived from Asia Minor established thousands of monasteries throughout Ethiopia.

I hope that this helped. Oh, there is also the most wonderful panoramic views from the Monastery (ge'dam), which is typical throughout this most beautiful, ancient land that is the Source of the Blue Nile and the Land of Cush!
Written January 16, 2015
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

midway42
Georgia3,116 contributions
4.0 of 5 bubbles
Mar 2014 • Solo
In preparations for my trip to Ethiopia I came across this “activity” as one may call it in both of my tour books and three documentaries. Climb a 15m vertical stone wall to get to a Christian monastery wearing just a leather harness for safety? I’m in.

Debre Damo figures prominently in Ethiopian lore, as legend has it that Abuna Aregawi (one of the Nine Saints) was assisted by a giant serpent to the top after which he established an eponymously named church. This was one of the many historical nuggets fed to me during our almost 90 minute drive from Axum to the monastery. The journey is mostly done on paved road with the last 30 minutes on a rugged surface. After arrival it’s a 15 minute walk to the foot of the “entrance” where the folks up top are cheerily awaiting your arrival. My guide fit a harness around me that felt fairly secure and I was given a nylon rope to make the climb. I wouldn’t call the ascent easy, but you are assisted by the monk above and if you are even of average fitness it should be doable in a few minutes.

After arrival on the top my guide gave me a tour of the area. About 150 monks live here and you can see some of them walking around doing their daily activities. The highlight of the destination was definitely the Abuna Aregawi church, considered to be the oldest in the country. A secondary highlight was the sweeping views over the surrounding area including Eritrea in the distance. After about 45 minutes in the monastery we descended to the bottom which was easier than climbing up but again not a simple task. After relaxing for a bit under some trees by the van it was back to Axum with a detour to Yeha on the way.

In summary, I wouldn’t really call this a life-changing experience but it is one that I will certainly remember for the rest of mine. Transit time is more than time spent at the monastery but with a good guide (see below) you will learn a lot of the history behind the monastery and get a small workout in as well. In addition to feeding the hyenas in Harar and seeing President Bush at Lalibela this was one of the few events that added to water-cooler conversation (my work doesn’t have one, but just go with this) when I got back after the trip:

“How was your vacation?”

“Pretty cool... went to Ethiopia, got to climb a 50ft sheer rock face with no climbing equipment and hang out with some monks in an 11th Century church. Anything happen while I was gone?”

Tips:

*If you’re looking for a guide, look no further than Zeray Romha (zeraytheaxum1@gmail.com). He provided excellent company/commentary and also took pictures of me climbing from below. I toured with him for two days altogether and he was absolutely excellent, providing not only superb guiding services but also assisting with hotel reservations, banking, mailing postcards, and shopping among other duties.

*FYI: only men are allowed to do this.

*Take your time on the initial ascent. I climbed up too fast and actually had to catch my breath a bit at the top. You’re in no rush and like I said the monks above help you.

*You may want to take it easy on the beer and tej (honey wine) the night before. If I had it to do over again I would have hydrated myself instead of imbibe.

*Consider visiting the archeological site at Yeha on the way back. If you’re in the area it’s worth a quick stop.

*Mornings are the best time to do this. My guide said most reputable tour operators don’t even offer it in the afternoon.
Written April 13, 2014
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

johnquinterophoto
London, UK87 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Nov 2018
If you are not in shape or are scared of heights, don't waste your time and go somewhere else as you can't see anything from the bottom of the rock where the monastery is.
If you climb up, the view is magnificent as the monastery itself. Great history and architecture that can add up to your rock-hewn churches tour. If you are lucky and attend one of the religious festivals, you will see a lot of pilgrims, priests and monks around. Great for photography!
Sorry, no women allowed.
Written June 4, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

HarpreetsWanderlust
Nairobi, Kenya437 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Dec 2017 • Solo
The Monastery of Debre Damo is set inside a hidden world atop a rock, accessible only by way of a leather rope up and only accessible to men. The trek up to the base of the rock is by way of climbing approximately 525 steps. I walked up to the base while my husband braved the climb up to the top with only a leather rope tied to his waist, aided by a monk pulling the rope at the top and a guide (who we picked from the base) helping to push him up. Even though women aren't allowed up the rope and into the Monastery, female pilgrims still make the trek up to the base and kiss the walls of the rock while chanting prayers.

My husband was ecstatic when he got back down and he revealed that there is a whole world up at the Monastery and interestingly nothing female, not even cattle. So, if you are male and wondering whether to do this, then going by my husband's experience and the few sneaky pictures he showed me, then don't think twice: shimmy on up to the top!
Written May 18, 2018
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Berhe H
Stockholm, Sweden6 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Jan 2017 • Family
This Monastery from the 6 century stays intact and worth its penny visiting. It is 15 Km distance fro the most beautiful City of Adigrat and you will be treated with an experience you will never forget for life.

The rope being tied around my waist by a monk comprised lengths of scraggly old leather attached to each other by granny knots. I have a fear of heights, and as I looked up, the cliff seemed to topple towards me by degrees.
But this was the only way to visit the 6th century monastery of Debre Damo, which perches on a plateau in northern Ethiopia, a true wilderness.
The monk whistled and I was plucked off terra firma like a sprat on a hook, yanked 50ft feet up the rock face by muscle power alone. Blessedly it was over within a minute, my terror to be replaced instantly with tranquility.
Written September 22, 2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Claus O
Copenhagen, Denmark5 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Jan 2016
The monastery itself is old, small and beautiful. It was fascinating to be guided by a young monk. He showed us all the different facilities - monastery, living quarters, work shops and reservoirs for storing water. The climb up and down - what can I say? I cannot believe I did it as it was too scary...
Written April 17, 2016
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

decgavin2015
Cork, Ireland21 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Nov 2015 • Couples
We had read all the plaudits about the rockhewn churches of Tigray, but nothing prepared us for seeing them ourselves.

The highlights were:

Debre Damo: The scenery on the way there was incredible. I wimped out of trying to climb scramble up the rope, but took consolation from enjoying everyone else doing their finest Spiderman impersonations.

Abuma Yemata Geh: Don't let the long walk put you off. We enjoyed every step of it - at least until the part where the scouts were helping to push us up vertical cliff faces! We were rewarded at the top by the amazing views! It was a real highlight on our trip, but probably not for the faint-hearted.

Maryam Korkor: This is close to Abuma Yemata Geh. It's not as sheer however it's equally rewarding. The church at the top had possibly the best reserved and most ornate exterior of any chapel we saw in Ethiopia.

We were very happy with our tour guides also, Mulualem (mulualen.axum@gmail.com) and Abaadi. We negotiated a two day trip with them which encompassed Axum and the above. We felt very safe with them, and luckily they had an air-conditioned jeep.

All in all, we had an amazing few days, and I'd highly recommend visiting Tigray. Just don't do what I did and turn up hungover!
Written February 1, 2016
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Luciano065
Netherlands102 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Nov 2015
Debre Damo is real treat to visit. The about 20 meter climb up using a rope is real fun and without any danger. Up on the top you will experience some great views. The church houses some nice colourful painting and a beautifully carved wooden ceiling. This place can only be visited by men.....
Written December 3, 2015
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Melachi-ibn-Amillar
London63 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Nov 2015 • Solo
I did visit the Debre Damo Monastery in Tigray, Ethiopia, not far from Eritreia. It is necessary to climp up a cliff with a rope to visit this Monastery, which is not at all easy -- in fact probably impossible if you have not done any rope climbing since junior school very many years ago. Coming down is also rather scary as you cannot see where to put your feet. Without the assistance of my guide, who managed to crack his head several times against the cliff trying basically to raise and lower me on his shoulders, I would not have managed this! The monks at the top were kind enough to charge me an extra 50bir (£1.50) in addition to the standard 50bir for a pull on the leather-assisting rope, on the grounds that I was "heavy". Somewhat exhausted, they took pity and gave me a little water from an old can, which my guide assured me was safe to drink. In fact I spent the next half hour coughing up some dustlike substance I had ingested. I asked him again if he was sure the water was alright, and he said "of course, it is holy water, kept in the holes in the rocks. They scrape off the algae before drinking it". There is not much to see at the top, except some illuminated books, indeed I was too exhausted to look around much. The monks were not, however, beneath hitching a lift with us to Adigrat.
Written November 24, 2015
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Leeor N
4 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Dec 2018 • Friends
Worth it for the rope climb alone! But the views from the top are magical. Make sure to bring plenty of money to pay the various religious leaders who managing passage. PLEASE NOTE: women are not allowed unfortunately.
Written February 26, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

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