About 3 hours drive from Axum is this isolated mountain-top monastery and church. The only way up is by climbing a rope 26 meter up a cliff. There is help pulling you when you get up or down but still at 2800m high you need to have some basic fitness (and nerve) to do this. Women are not allowed up. On top there is a small village for the monks and the oldest standing church in Ethiopia. You'll need to hire a guide+4x4 to get there. Several aganecies in town do this, usually combined with a visit to Yeha.
Aba Pantaleon is one of the oldest churches of the country. It was founded by Abba Pantaleon, who spent his last 45 years standing in a cell healing the sick. Women are only allowed in the compound but not inside the church. Next to it is the church of Aba Ubanos.
Dongar Palace or better known as the Queen Of Sheba`s Palace lies outside of Aksum on the road leading to Shire. The palace was only discovered in 1950. Probably it was the most impressive building at its time! It contained more than 50 rooms and had an impressive drainage system.
There is a site keeper who will check your entrance tickets and show you around explaining the site and especially the drainage system.
Don´t come here during lunch time! There is a lunch break in the visiting hours from 12.00 to 14.00 hrs or 6 to 8 hrs Ethiopian time!
Near the place of Ad Hankara underneath the large rock lion head is the place where the stelae for the stelae fields outside of Aksum were taken out.
Turn towards the hill as you reach the power station and immediately you will find yourself in the old quarry area.
There is an unfinished stelae to see and if you walk further up towards the rocks you can see the Lioness Of Gobedra. A more than three metres large lion figure and a cross carved on to a rock. The story behind it is not clear but the tradition says that the Archangel Michael was attacked here by a lion. He was defending himself with such a power that the body of the animal left an outline on the rock when the angle smashed it against it.
Probably you won´t find the rock without a guide, as its not easily seen. Even if you are standing only a few meters away its difficult to spot.
There is a nice little walk possible. Leave Aksum from the main stelae field and take the road passing by the Mai Shum and later the Trilingual Tablet to King Kaleb`s Palace. Its about half an hour to here. From the remains of the palace its another half an hour walk to the top of the mountain known as Debre Katin where the Pantaleon Monastery can be visited.
There is a path going down to Aksum which ends up near the Africa Hotel so you don´t need to walk back the same way!
Opposite the Queen Of Sheba palace on the other side of the road is the Gudit Stelae Field. The stelae here are smaller than those in town. The tickets of the palace are also valid here and it’s the same caretaker who will let you in. Don´t forget the lunchbreak!
The men climbed up to the plateau to visit the monastery with two churches, built in the Aksumite architecture. They could have a look at the decorated beams and ceilings with wooden panels depicting animals like snakes, elephants, lions, rhino's and giraffes in one of the churches.
While the men were looking at all these paintings and treasures, we (the women and some men) didn't wait, but started to walk the way back ahead of the bus in the direction of the highway.
By the little breeze and going down it was a nice walk, even at the middle of the day. The views at the landscape were marvellous. Except the striking ambas, the flat-topped mountains, I enjoyed the wonderful colours of the valley with the meandering river down in the valley.
Walking back from the steep rock of the Debre Damos the view to the north at the flat-topped mountains near the Eritrean border is breathtaking. This view was the only thing I could look at as a woman, allthough later a male fellow-traveller showed me the video images, he made at the plateau of the monastery.
And of course there is a traditional story about Debre Damos, which tells that the monastery was founded by Abuna Aregawi, a saint of the 6th century with the help of a python. When this saint spotted the large plateau as an ideal spot for a hermit's life, he prayed and immediately the large python stretched down from above to lift him up to the plateau. And so the monastery was founded.
I walked up to the spot, where you could climb to the monastery, to support morally my male fellow-travellers, who had the courage and the strength in their biceps to climb up by rope.
One rope of cowskin is tied around their waist and is used by the monks above to assist the men to go up. A second rope is fixed to the rock, which the men need to scramble up theirselves, in combination with using their feet at the steep rock.
Approaching the mountain of Debre Damo the track is rather steep. At the end of the track you have to climb a rocky slope to the steep rocks. From here the only way up to the top is by rope. Only male visitors are allowed to go up and enter the monastery grounds.
From the place where you can park you car, you have to look very well to recognize the man-made walls and buildings, all in the same natural colour as the rocks. Enlarge this picture and you will see it too.
There are a lot of kids around to show you the way to the ropes.
The monastery of Debre Damo is situated on a 2800 M high flat-topped mountain, called amba in the local language.
From far you can see allready this characteristic mountain.
About 80 monks live at the half a square KM area of the mountaintop
Debre Damo dates back to the Aksumite times of King Gebre Meskel, successor to King Kaleb. Debre Damo is the oldest still existing church in Ethiopia and one of the best surviving examples of the the ancient Aksumite building style.
The 11 KM long track to Debre Damo crossed a small river. This was the only place with water we saw in this dry and barren landscape.
We were happy to find also some small trees here, giving the only shade in the area during our walk down. We had a little rest in this shade. At that moment also some cows came walking down the track into the water to have a drink. We brought our own water.
The monastary of Debre Damo lies 86 KM north east of Aksum on a flat-topped mountain in a very barren landscape, not far from the border with Eritrea.
Form Aksum you have to take the road to Adrigat eastwards. Near the village of Bizet is a signposted track to the north. From here the track goes uphill for 11 KM before you reach Debre Damos. We had our own transport. When you take a public bus, you have to walk the last 11 KM.
The views at the surrounding mountains are breathtaking, but walking in the burning sun isn't easy. I saw 2 people walking up with their bikes, when I walked down for a while till our bus picked us up again.
On the road to Shire about 3 km outside of Aksum a large Lion head as part of a rock formation can be seen.