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LALIBELA (2630m altitude)
The Eighth wonder of the world
The 2nd Jerusalem

As the thousand–year Axumite Empire collapsed under the onslaught of the formidable Queen Judith, about 1137 a new dynasty came to power in the Christian highlands. Known as the Zagwe and based in the Agew district of Lasta, it developed naturally out of the long cultural and political contact between Cushitic- and Semitic-speaking peoples in the northern highlands.
By the time of the Zagwe, the Ethiopian church was showing the effects of long centuries of isolation from the larger Christian and Orthodox worlds. After the seventh century, when Egypt succumbed to the Arab conquest, the highlanders' sole contact with outside Christianity was with the Coptic Church of Egypt, which periodically supplied a patriarch, or abun, upon royal request. During the long period from the seventh to the twelfth century, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church came to place strong emphasis upon the Old Testament and on the Judaic roots of the church. Christianity in Ethiopia became imbued with Old Testament belief and practice in many ways, which differentiated it not only from European Christianity but also from the faith of other Monophysites, such as the Copts. Under the Zagwe, the highlanders maintained regular contact with the Egyptians. Also, by then the Ethiopian church had demonstrated that it was not a proselytizing religion but rather one that by and large restricted its attention to already converted areas of the highlands. Not until the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries did the church demonstrate real interest in proselytizing among nonbelievers, and then it did so via a reinvigorated monastic movement
Staunch Christians, the Zagwe devoted themselves to the construction of new churches and monasteries. These were often modeled after Christian religious edifices in the Holy Land, a locale the Zagwe and their subjects held in special esteem. Patrons of literature and the arts in the service of Christianity, the Zagwe kings were responsible, among other things, for the great churches carved into the rock in and around their capital at Roha. In time, Roha became known as Lalibela, the name of the Zagwe king to whose reign the town churches' construction has been attributed.


The 11 churches at Lalibela, Ethiopia, are regarded as one of the wonders of the world, excavated from solid rock with an immense underground maze of tunnels and passages. There are two main groups of churches, with another church dedicated to Saint George a short distance away.
Ethiopian tradition connects the churches with the most famous King Lalibela of the Zagwe dynasty, and the town, formerly known as Roha, has come to be known by that king's name. The Life of Lalibela describes how King Lalibela (who ruled from the late 12th to the early 13th centuries) was carried away to the heavenly Jerusalem. There he was instructed to build the churches. Angels worked beside his men as they cut each one from the rock, and then kept working through the night. However, the style in which the churches were made is remarkably similar to the surviving architecture of ancient Axum, and scholars have become intrigued by the possibility that some of the churches could be much older than the reign of Lalibela. Some of them may also have been constructed as palaces rather than as churches. They do not all follow the conventional alignment of churches to the east.
After the death of Lalibela his tomb and the city itself began to draw thousands of pilgrims. Although his Dynasty was overthrown, Lalibela is still revered as a saint. The churches are seen as a New Jerusalem, with a river named Jordan and sites corresponding to the holy places of the great city. According to an Ethiopian saying: "If you do not wish to see Lalibela, you are like someone who has no desire to see the face of Christ."

The following rock churches can be visited with an Excursion from Lalibela

  1. Asheten Mariam monastery:
    This13th century monastery is built on a ridge, excellent views over the surrounding countryside at an altitude of 3150 metres. It is about 8 kms from Lalibela.  The road to this monastery is steeply looked like a twisted rope hugged on the wall but very beautiful scenery and rewarding to experience it. On top, it looks like flying over the town of Lalibela and its surroundings. Inside the monastery you find the 13thc hand and processional crosses of king Na’akutola’ab who ruled Ethiopia for 40 years just after king Lalibela. Mule ride to this rock hewn monastery takes about 4 hours.
  2. Nakuto Le’Abe Monastery:
    This church is built – rather than excavated – within a cave: it is carved into the face of a cave. King Nakuto Le’Abe addicted his throne in 1270 AD and went to a cave to lead a hermit’s life. This cave has ever since become a monastery and has a dramatic setting. It houses one of the most interesting collections of ancient crosses, illuminated manuscripts and other icons some of which are attributed to its founder Nakuto Le’Abe.
  3. Yemrehanne Kristos 'Let Christ show us the Way':
    A built-up cave church, located   42km north-east of Lalibela town. This church which is in similar architecture as that of Axumite wood and stone construction, said to predate the churches of Lalibela. It is celebrated for its interior decoration. According to local tradition the church was built by King Yemrehanna Kristos between 1087 and 1127. This church is built – rather than excavated – within a cave. It sits atop a foundation of olive-wood panels and features whitewashed marble panel exteriors. It is one of the most incredible church outside of Lalibela.
  4. Arbatu Entzessa -'the four animals':
    South-west of Yemrehanne Kristos, this tiny monolithic sanctuary has vestiges of the ancient Axumite style.
  5. Mekane Medhane Alem -'the place of the Redeemer of the World':
    East of Lalibela, this ancient church is reached by climbing for two hours to the site above Genete Mariam.
  6. Genete Maryam -'the paradise of Mary':
    One hours drive from Lalibela (or 4 hours by mule) is the monolithic rock church on the higher layer of a plinth. The pink stonework can be seen from some distance away.
  7. 7-Bilbala Giorgis - 'St George in Bilbala':
    Southwest of Arbatu Entzessa, only the facade of this church is visible. In the same district is Bilbala Cherqos with its excellent murals of the saints and evangelists.
Select a trip to Lalibela from any of the history trips ...
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