Good Morning Africa from the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela

Arts, Culture and Sport

Good Morning Africa from the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela

Located in the heart of Ethiopia is Lalibela, a town where eleven monolithic rock-hewn churches are. These old Temples are not only the biggest in the world but are also a UNESCO World Heritage site, yet much mystery still surrounds their construction.



Previously known as Roha, Lalibela used to be the Capital of Zague dynasty for over 300 years.  It was named Lalibela after King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, who was named so because a swarm of bees is said to have surrounded him at his birth.

Churches of Lalibela – Bet Abba Libanos [photo: Wiki cc]

According to history, the temples were excavated when ruled King Lalibela Ethiopia at the beginning of the 13th century AD.  He was inspired by his trip to Jerusalem and wanted to create a ‘’New Jerusalem’ after Christians were not able to visit the Holy Land because of Muslim conquests.

The town has two main groups of churches according to UNESCO: to the north of the river Jordan and to the south of the river. The eleventh church, Biete Ghiorgis (House of St. George), is isolated from the others but connected by a system of trenches

Local legends claim that the King was asked to build the churches by an angel. During the day men worked on the building during the day and the angels at night. The workers carved the rock from top to bottom, creating different styles internally and externally.  They chiselled out the blocks to create windows, column, floors and roofs.

In 1978, UNESCO inscribed it into the World Heritage Sites list because of its unique artistic achievement, execution, size and boldness of their form.  It also acknowledged King Lalibela’s contribution to Ethiopian Christianity.


Saint George, Lalibela [Photo: Alastair Rae/lickr]

“The King of Lalibela set out to build a symbol of the holy land when pilgrimages to it were rendered impossible by the historical situation. In the Church of Biet Golgotha, are replicas of the tomb of Christ, and of Adam, and the crib of the Nativity. The holy city of Lalibela became a substitute for the holy places of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and as such has had considerable influence on Ethiopian Christianity,” states UNESCO.

St. George Slaying the Dragon, Church of Debre Sina, Lalibela, [Photo: Wiki CC]

The exceptional town of Lalibela with all its churches makes it is an extraordinary place to visit, offering something that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

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