Tigrai, best described as the open-air museum, is an ancient state in the Horn of Africa. It is situated between 12°–15° N and 36° 30\’ – 40° 30′ E and comprises 53,638 square kilometers (20,710 sq mi). Tigrai’s official language is Tigrigna. Tigray has more than 5.5 million inhabitants. The greatest part of the population (more than 80%) is agriculturalists, contributing 46% to the state’s gross domestic product (2002/03).
The highlands (11.5% Degua, 40.5% weyna Degua) have the highest population density, especially in eastern and central Tigrai. The much less densely populated lowlands of Tigrai (Qolla) comprise 48% of Tigrai.
Tigray is bordered by Eritrea to the north, Sudan to the west, Amhara and Afar regions of Ethiopia to the south, and the east and southeast respectively.
Tigrai has been home to successive waves of civilizations through the millennia. Each has left its own footprints by erecting monuments, building palaces and temples, curving rock churches, writing stone and skin inscriptions, inventing unique language with its own alphanumeric writing, and so on. Temples, elaborate palaces, great stone stelae, magnificent tombs, and early churches and mosques stand as testimony to the ebb and flow of humanity in the region. They are set against an extraordinary biblical landscape in which the life led by the people has much that is timeless creating wonders and triggering questions to tourists from around the world.
Christianity was introduced in the fourth century to the kingdom of Axum. Monasteries were soon built and carved out of rocks to become centers for worship, learning, translating Greek and Hebrew books, including the Bible in the fifth century. By the end of the sixth century, Islam was introduced to the kingdom Axum in Tigrai.
The first mosque in Africa was then built in this kingdom at a place known as Negash. This uniquely identifies Tigrai in its harmony and freedom of belief systems.
The first stirrings of civilization in Africa are most vividly evoked by the great Temple of the Moon at Yeha, the most tangible embodiment of the kingdom of Da’amat, which probably dates back as far as the 13 century BC, according to recent excavations, and which, at its height, encompassed the territory of both modern Tigrai and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa highlands.
The site of Axum also reveals monuments attesting to very early engineering feats, architectural skills, and techniques. During its time as a major world power, the Axumite Empire maintained trade relations with India, Ceylon, South Arabia, and the Roman Empire (Including Syria, Palestine, and Egypt). Many other archaeological finds such as Hawelti, Menebeiti, Hinzat, Addi-Akawuh, and Sekera also add witness to the long standing history of Tigrai.
Tigrai is better precisely put as an open-air museum. Its pleasantly mild climate with beautiful and welcoming people, untouched cultural, historic, religious, and natural attractions and resources, has made it to the must-visit list of tourists among the rare places on earth. For tourists coming for a short stay, the most popular must-see sites can be described as:
- Axum: stelae field, tombs, ruined palaces, old churches, etc
- Gheralta Landscapes, churches,
- Rock-churches & Monasteries: scattered on the mountain chains from Temben to Hawzen, Gheralta, and then to Atsbi and Enderta
- Al-Nejashi Mosque
- Mekelle & Surrounding: Emperor Yohannes IV Palace/Museum, Cheleanqua, Kokholo, Hawelti, Choma,
- Kafta-Sheraro National Park
- Forest Reserves of Desa,
- Hugumbirda and Girakahsu
- Hashenge: the only highland lake in Tigrai
- Highly inaccessible monasteries: Abune Yemaeta, Debre Damo, Gundagundo, Amba Meskel
- Events and Celebrations: Ashenda, Meskel, Timqet, Hosaena
The chained mountains and breathtaking landscapes of Adwa, Gheralta, Asimba, Temben, Wolqait, Ambalage, Tsibet, Girakahsu, etc, and other similar ones are appealing experiences only contested by the dreamlike impression of a world-class artist. Culture and lifestyle are also important values uniquely manifested in Tigrai. Traditional songs, dances, musical instruments, religious ceremonies, rituals, and lifestyles of indigenous peoples are also priceless assets of this less-promoted society.
Tigrai has reliable annual monsoon rainfall and fertile soil, had been successfully inhabited since the Stone Age. Agriculture and trade with Egypt, southern Arabia, and other African peoples ensured the rise of the powerful kingdom of Axum (also Aksum), which was founded in the 1st century CE. Flourishing from the 3rd to 6th century CE, and then surviving as a much smaller political entity into the 8th century CE, the Kingdom of Axum was the first sub-Saharan African state to officially adopt Christianity, c. 350 CE. Axum was also the first African civilization that created its own script, Ge’ez, which is still in use in Tigrai, Eritrea, and Ethiopia today.
If you are looking for a peaceful place to visit and learn about a lifetime experience, step into Tigrai, and you will never feel the same. At Hadgi Tourism, we’ve tailored itineraries to choose from as well as rooms for custom packages.