Debre Damo

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The old adage that it is the journey and not the destination that matters certainly holds true for Debre Damo. Set on a flat-topped mountain in northern Ethiopia at an elevation of 2,216 meters, is a monastery dating from the 6th century. The only way to reach the site is by climbing a 15-metre rock face with the aid of a leather rope that has been lowered down from the top by a helpful monk.

Having made that rather arduous ascent visitors are rewarded with panoramic views of the Tigray highlands and an opportunity to explore the monastery and its famous treasures, among them a collection of some of the country’s oldest illuminated manuscripts.

Debre Damo is known for being the home of the earliest existing church building in Ethiopia that is still in its original style, dating back to the 10th or 11th century. Thanks to extensive restorations during the mid 20th century the church is in good condition while retaining its ancient character. Don’t miss the beams and ceiling inside the church which have been decorated with carved wooden panels depicting Ethiopian wild animals.

The mountain and its formidable cliffs are unfortunately off limits for the entire female species. Not even female animals are allowed on the mountain and the climbing rope is made of ox-leather rather than cow!

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