The Sacred Site of Lalibela

Lalibela, a small town in Ethiopia, is the haven of one of the most amazing sacred sites in the world—11 rock-hewn churches, with each one carved entirely from one block of granite with a roof positioned at ground level. If not for the town’s amazing churches, many tourists would never think to visit this dusty rural town.

Located 700 Kms North East of Addis Ababa in rolling countryside of Amhara region, Lalibela just recently gained access to electricity. It has few motorized vehicles, and does not have paved streets or gas stations. Since the town is isolated from the modern cities, business tends to be done just like it was hundreds of years ago.

Lalibela has around 27,200 people, more than a thousand of which are priests. The focal point of town life is religious rituals, usually comprised of extensive fasts, dancing priests, crowds of people singing, and regular processions. This type of culture, along with the great religious architecture of the town and the simplicity of life, allows the town to present a uniquely timeless and almost biblical vibe.

Originally called Roha, Lalibela got its new name when King Lalibela commissioned the exceptional churches in the 12th century. King Lalibela was part of the Zagwe dynasty, the dynasty that seized the Ethiopian throne during 1000 AD.

The focal point of town life is religious rituals, usually comprised of extensive fasts, dancing priests, Based on a few reports, King Lalibela actually went to the Holy Land, and he gained inspiration from the things he saw there. However, he did not attempt to imitate the Holy Land’s churches. As a matter of fact, the sacred architecture of Lalibela has a very unique and distinctive feel.

The Lalibela Churches

The churches were carved from rock. Some of these were cut in the cliff, while others are isolated structures located in deeply carved pits. One of the most popular churches in Lalibela is the Beta Giyorgis, also known as the house of St. George. It stands independently, since it is not a major component of an interconnected complex. It stands in an 11-metre deep rectangular pit, which also comes with a long approach trench.

The popular Lalibela churches are still in good condition. Some of the structures lie almost fully hidden in deep trenches. Others, on the other hand, stand on their own in open caves. These structures are connected with a labyrinth of tunnels as well as passageways. If you plan to visit Ethiopia, consider visiting Lalibela to see the churches for yourself.