Some 76 kilometers from Axum city is the monastery of Debre damo (closed to women) which is the said to have the oldest existing intact church in Ethiopia. Local tradition says that Abune Aregawi one of the nine saints, built the church in the 16th century. The monastery of Debre Damo can only be reached by rope pulley.
Debre Damo Monastery
Debre Damo monastery is situated on an isolated mountain in northern part of Tigray. It is unique compared with most Ethiopian monasteries. Debre Damo was built, in the 6th century AD, with curved wood panels, painted ceilings and walls dedicated to the legend of Saint (Abune) Aregawi. The history of Debre Damo is centered on the “Nine Saints” who came to Ethiopia from Syria to spread Christianity in the Tigray region. One of them was Saint Aregawi who settled on the mountain of Debre Damo. The other eight saints settled around Tigray countryside and all have their own church named after them.
Debre Damo is only accessible by climbing up by a rope, which is made of “plaited leather”, lowered from the cliffs, which visitors tie around their waist and are then pulled up by a monk at the top of the cliffs. It is only accessible to men and male animals. Women and even female animals are forbidden to set a foot into the monastery, and must remain under the cliffs and pray from there.