The Legend of Lalibela

The Rock -hewn Church of Lalibela

Widely known as the "Eighth Wonder if the world ",the medieval complex of 11rock-hewn churches  and 2chaples at Lalibela must surely rank as the single most breathtaking historical site in sub Saharan Africa.hand -carved,flake by painstaking flake, into the remote mountains of the Ethiopian interior ,this labyrinthine cluster of religions shrines represents  the Apex of an ancient church -excavating tradition that dates to the arrival of christianity in ethiopia in the 4th century.curved towards the end of the 12th century, the complex at Lalibela was created under the direction of the king of the same name ,who conceived it as a king of 'new Jerusalem '

Many of the finest churches at Lalibela are subterranean monoliths, created in two stages.first a quadrangular courtyard of four trenches up to 15meters deep would be hand -cut into a horizontal rock surface.only then could the artisans commence work on the actual church, which would be excavated into the massive freestanding central block enclosed by the artificial courtyard.otger churches we're carved into cliffs,or enclosed by deep dry moats ,and the complex as whole is connected by a Warren of bank tunnels,shady passages and wide courtyards pockmarked with cramped hermit cells.Architecturally ,it is an astonishing place moreover,Lalibela is one of the very few UNESCO world heritage sites of comparable vintage that still functions as a living shrine ,one whose ancient stone churches have remained in active use since their excavation all those centuries ago.

Trekking around Lalibela

The mountains around Lalibela offer some super high-altitude hiking and trekking opportunities.only 15km northeast of Lalibela, the 4284m Mount Abune Yoseph is Ethiopia's third highest mountain,after the Simiens and Bale.its upper slopes are protected in a recently -created community area of 70square kilometers of Afro-Alpine grassland and moorland studded with giant lobelia and Heather trees ,A simple lodge in the reserve, built at 4,000m provides the highest accommodation in Ethiopia ,and is also ideally placed for tracking wild life including the endemic Ethiopia wolf and gelada baboon, an isolated troop of Hamadryas baboon, the spectacular lammergeyer and other typical highland birds.Abune Yoseph can be ascended and descended as a two -night standalone trek,but four nights are better,and keen hikers might want to extend their hike by staying at some of the 11communiry -managed guesthouses I other remote villages.

Did you know ?

it is said that King Lalibela received his name -which means 'the bees recognise his sovereignty ' -after his mother saw him lying in his cradle surrounded by a swarm of bees.this was a potential of the momentous life he would lead ,according to a belief that animals could foresee such things.

some source estimate that it would have required around 40,000man -years to carve all the churches of Lalibela.

Bete Medhane Alem ,with it's five aisles ,is reputedly the world's largest monlitbic rock-hewn structure.

a pool outside Better Maryam is believed to cure any infertile women who is dipped into the water three times on Ethiopian Christmas.


King Lalibela and Roha

Originally called Asefa, the town of Lalibela was founded circa the 8th century AD. It became capital of the Zagwe dynasty in the 12th century,when it was renamed Roha. The most venerated Zagwe rule was King Lalibela, whose 40 reign started circa 118. Following the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187,Lalibela received divine instruction to carve a 'new Jerusalem' into the rocks of Roha. Some legends state that the resultant complex of 11rock -hewn churches and 2 chapels was excavated overnight with angelic assistance.the last Zagwe ruler was overthrown by Yikuno Amlak ,who restored the solomonic dynasty,circa 1270,after which Roha was abandoned as capital. Despite this, King Lalibela was later recognized as saint by the Ethiopia orthodox,and the former Zagwe capital was then named after him.

Churches in Lalibela

The 11 rock-hewn churches and 2chapels of Lalibela are divided into two main clusters. The main ticket office located at the town  center leads directly to the north cluster, where a massive subterranean courtyard enclose Better Medhane Allen -the world's largest rock-hewn monolith ,supported by 36 internal and 36 external pillars. From here, Rock-hewn passage leads to the atmospheric Better Maryam, with elaborately carved interior and lively painted ceiling.Here,too,stands Better Golgotha,reputed burial place of king Lalibela,and Selassie,Chapel,a sanctuary so holy it is closed to all the southern church cluster, the fortress-like Bete Gebriel-Rafael, enclosed by a deep dry moat, and the superbly worked monolith Better Emanuel demonstrate stronger Aksumite architectural influences than their northern counterparts. The most spectacular rock-hewn church in Lalibela is Better Giyorgis,a 15 meter tall monolith surrounded by a gaging subterranean trench.legend has it that this symmetrically cruciform church so delighted saint George that he rode his horse right over the entrance,leaving behind hood prints that are still visible today.

Churches around Bilbilla

A day trip to Bilbilla,30km north of Lalibela, provides an opportunity to visit four exquisite churches that attract fewer tourists than their counterparts in town.three of these -Bilbilla Giyorgis,Bilbilla Chirkos and Bilbilla Arba'etu Insesa- are rock-hewn three-quarter monoliths said locally to date back 1,500 years to the reign of king Kaleb. However, the most intriguing of the churches around Lalibela is Yemrehanna Kristos, an ancient monastery whose modern outer wall hides a 900-year old building constructed in the late Also mite style with alternating layers of wood and gypsum -faced granite. A cavern behind the church houses the bones of more than 10,000christian pilgrims who travelled from afar to die at the monastery.

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