Lalibela & its Rock Churches

Lalibela & its Rock Churches

Following the dawn fall of Axum the seat of the imperial capital and power shifted to Roha (Lalibela) situated at about 2630m above sea level in rugged mountains in Wollo region. The strange isolated town of Lalibela is very well known for its Rock hewn churches. Its modern name Lalibela is derived from the most famous of the Zagwe rulers, the 12th king Lalibela.

Lalibela rock hewn churches are unique because they are

  • Hidden, Curved below ground level ringed by trenches and courtyards the side of which are cut into with stone graves and hermit cells
  • Connected to each other by a tangled maze of tunnels and passages
  • Different in shape and size precisely curved and decorated
  • The church complex feels like a subterranean village

Lalibela is impressive and according to the Portuguese priest Francisco Alvares who visited the church complex in the first half of the 16th C he described
“It wearied me to write more of these works, because it seemed to me that they will accuse me of untruth….there is much more than I have already written, and I have left it that they may not tax me with it being falsehood”

What to see

The Rock Hewn Churches: World Heritage site

Lalibela & its Rock Churches

These churches are wonderful and different from their counterparts in Tigray or in any other parts of Ethiopia. There are three types of churches concentrated in Lalibela around the symbolic river Jordan and these are: Monolithic, semi monolithic and cave churches which are grouped into first, second and third clusters.

To the first group belong Beta Medahane Alem, Beta Maryam, Beta Meskel and Beta Golgotha, Beta Silasse, Beta Debre Sina and Beta Denagil symbolizing earthly Jerusalem. The second Group consists of Beta Amanuel, Beta Abba Libanos and Beta Gabriel Raphael symbolizing heavenly Jerusalem. Beta Giorgis symbolizing Noah’s Ark belongs to the third group.

The Rock hewn churches of Lalibela can be visited any time of the year and one of the best places to celebrate Christmas in Ethiopia is Lalibela.

Excursion from Lalibela:

Lalibela & its Rock Churches

There are concentrations of churches around Lalibela which are very different to their Lalibela counterparts and are less visited by tourists. Some monasteries such as Asheton Maryam situated on a mountain overlooking Lalibela can only be reached by three hours trekking assisted by mule. There are a better selection churches along Bilbala circuits that includes Bilbala Cherkos, Arbatu Washa, Bilbala Giorgis and the monastery of Yemrehana Christos. Other sights of interest include the monasteries of Neakuto leab and Geneta Maryam.

Mekele can be reached in a day drive from Lalibela via the scenic route Of Korem- Sekota all weather road with a possible diversions to the beautiful cave church of Yemrehana Christos ( Christ lead us) and Bilbala Georgis enroute. The ancient city of Axum can also be reached in a day drive from Lalibela via the junction towns of Finarwa and Abiady. Interesting attractions along this route include the two churches of Meskele Christos and Debre Woybila Maryam and Traditional houses known as Hidmo Bet.