First thing on the Ethiopia Bucket List: a visit to Lalibela. The problem about that: extremely complicated to go there, in the middle of nowhere. BUT nine of us could not be scared by the rather adventurous arrival (“A propeller-driven aircraft?! Seriously???”) and spent the weekend at one of the world’s greatest historical sites (Thank you again, Weiwei!).
The small town of Lalibela is home to one of the most astounding sacred sites: eleven rock-hewn churches, each carved entirely out of a single block of granite with its roof at ground level. The churches of Lalibela were not constructed — they were excavated. Each church was created by first carving out a wide trench on all four sides of the rock, then painstakingly chiseling out the interior.
The town of Lalibela was originally known as Roha. It was renamed after the 12th-century King Lalibela, who commissioned these extraordinary churches. King Lalibela’s goal was to create a New Jerusalem for those who could not make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land But the king made no attempt to copy the churches of the Holy Land; in fact, Lalibela’s sacred architecture could not be more unique.
Unique is also the way to the churches: steep staircases, slim corridors carved in the stone and trails right through the wilderness. One highlight of the trip: the walk through “hell”, a narrow tunnel under the earth, completely black with not even the slightest glimpse of sunlight coming in – at which’s end is one of the most beautiful churches of Lalibela.
Seeing the ancients sites, the beautiful, breathtaking architecture and the deep reverence that people have for these churches makes Lalibela an extraordinary experience. For everybody who plans to go to Ethiopia: take the time to visit this place, no matter how complicated the trip will be. You will be rewarded with lots of unforgettable memories.