All thanks to the great king Lalibela who has left us with this great church of a treasure. You won’t know the feeling of holy until you have been to the city of lalibela because that is as holy as it gets. Lalibela is one of Ethiopians holiest places dating back to the 12th century. Lalibela town formerly known as Roha, named after one of Ethiopian ruler, king Lalibla, a member of the Zagwe dynasty. Lalibela I known for the amazing eleven churches hewn made from solid rock. Built in the 12th century, they are still standing in excellent condition. It is considered to be one of the 8 wonders of the world and is a heritage listed by UNESCO.
It’s actually an interesting story, how King Lalibela came to build these churches. Legend has it, that one day king Lalibela’s mother saw him lying happily, surrounded by a dense swarm of bees. Believing the bees had the power to tell the future, she called her son Lalibela which means in Agaw language “the bee recognizes his power to rule”. The irony of it all, he did become a king but that isn’t the only legend told. Another legend says that king Lalibela visited Jerusalem and vowed to build a New Jerusalem as his capital. Either ways, it’s safe to say that he did build the “new Jerusalem” he did not disappoint.
These churches are carved out form the rock on which they stand. Some lie almost completely hidden in deep trenches, while others stand in open quarried caves. A complex and amazing labyrinth of tunnels and narrow passage ways connects them all.
Seeing all the Lalibela churches will be worth your while. Particularly during the colorful Ethiopian Christian holidays like Gena which is the Ethiopian Christmas.
The city of Lalibela is located in northern Ethiopia, about 800kms north of the capital city Addis Ababa and halfway up on Roha Mountain although connected to one another by maze like tunnels, the Rock Hewn churches are physically separated by a small river which is called the Jordan. You will realize that the churches on one side of the Jordan represent the earthly Jerusalem while those on the other side represent the heavenly Jerusalem.
The eye catching churches of Lalibela are carved from soft volcanic rocks, some cut into the face of a cliff, while others are isolated structures in deeply carved pits with long access passage or trenches. I bet you will have a hard time deciding where to begin given the irresistible diverse architecture of each church.
There is one church called “Bete Giorgis” which is not interconnected rather stands on its own on a pit about 11m deep, I suggest you start there because once u set foot in the 11 linked churches, you wouldn’t want to leave . It has blind lower windows in an Axumite style with higher open windows central to each face when viewed from outside.