Gareth and I visited Lalibela after the end of In-Country Training and were joined by Martin, our friend from Mekele. Lalibela is a UNESCO world heritage site and perhaps the most famous tourist destination in Ethiopia. The town was the capital of the Zagwe dynasty and was renamed Lalibela after it’s most famous ruler, the 12th century King Lalibela.
Legend has it that King Lalibela had a vision to construct a new Jerusalem in Ethiopia and gathered together the finest craftsmen to carve churches into the rocks.There are 11 churches in Lalibela and with our guide, Mesfin, we visited them all.
Some of the churches in Lalibela are huge – more than 10 metres high – and it is quite astounding to think that people carved these buildings with the simplest of tools. At the other end of the scale, some of the churches are like little rooms, set into the rocks of the bigger churches. Most of the them are connected to each other by a series of trenches and tunnels that you have to navigate through in the dark if you don’t have a torch!
The churches at Lalibela are still functional and we met many a priest and worshipper as we journeyed through them. The outside of the churches tended to be more impressive than the interiors, which only had some small carvings and modern religious paintings. Lalibela was a fascinating place to visit, quite unlike anywhere else in Ethiopia, or the world.