Some 76 kilometers from Axum is the monastery of Debre Damo (closed to women), which is 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 sixth century. The monastery of Debre Damo can only be reached by rope pulley.
The treasures secreted within, kept intact through the country’s 1,400 tumultuous years of history because of that arduous, dangerous ascent, include an extensive collection of illuminated manuscripts, among them the oldest surviving fragments of texts anywhere in Ethiopia. The church now houses about fifty manuscripts, although the monks claim that they formerly possessed no less than a thousand.