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The way into the monastery
Debre Damo is the name of a flat-topped mountain, or amba, and a 6th century monastery in northern Ethiopiamarker. The mountain is steeply rising plateau of trapezoidal shape, about 1000 by 400 meters in dimension, having a latitude and longitude of and an elevation of 2216 meters above sea level, and located west of Adigratmarker in the Mehakelegnaw Zone of the Tigray Regionmarker. An alternate set of coordinates is for a site on the wikimap at , 6km to the south; the exact location on the map needs resolution.

The monastery, accessible only by rope up a sheer cliff, is known for its collection of manuscripts, and having the earliest existing church building in Ethiopia still in its original style. Tradition claims the monastery was founded in the sixth century by Abuna Aregawi.

The monastery

The monastery received its first archeological examination by E. Littman who led a German expedition to northern Ethiopia in the early 20th century. By the time David Buxton saw the ancient church in the mid-1940s, he found it "on the point of collapse"; a few years later, the English architect D.H. Matthews assisted in the restoration of the building, which included the rebuilding of one of its wood and stone walls (a characteristic style of Aksumite architecture). Thomas Pakenham, who visited the church in 1955, records a tradition that Debre Damo had also once been a royal prison for heirs to the Emperor of Ethiopia, like the better known Wehni and Amba Geshenmarker. The exterior walls of the church were built of alternating courses of limestone blocks and wood, "fitted with the projecting stumps that Ethiopians call 'monkey heads.'" Once inside, Pakenham was in awe of what he saw:

The church of Debre Damo


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