The EHF works with local communities, guides and tourist agencies to encourage sustainable tourism to Tigray’s painted churches. In subsidising rural economies, this plays a vital role in protecting the painted heritage. In this effort, the EHF has embarked on local guide training, to improve knowledge and conservation awareness.
The 4-day training course, which focused on the rock-cut and constructed painted churches of Tigray, was held in April 2019, attended by more than 20 guides who work in the region. Its purpose was to provide information on the historical and architectural development of churches, the iconography of their paintings and how they were made, and on issues relevant to their preservation. Findings from the EHF’s conservation work were included. The tour guides have few opportunities to meet together as a professional body, and the course provided a much-needed forum for learning and discussion. Participants engaged with the course with enthusiasm. A particularly useful debate was held about current threats to the painted churches, and the role that the tour guides can have in highlighting these issues to regional authorities. With their intimate knowledge of the sites, they are keenly aware of emerging risks and threats – such as from quarrying activities in close proximity to some of the churches, and the unregulated use of drones for filming by tourists in sensitive locations. We intend to continue this initiative in 2020.