Named for the king who built them, Lalibela is famous around the world for the monolithic churches carved into the bedrock of the region. This tiny northern town of 15,000 people hosts far more than this in pilgrims and adventure-seekers who flock to one of Ethiopia’s most iconic sites.
The churches, intended to be a “New Jerusalem” when completed, are still a sacred pilgrimage destination for many. Thanks to ample guards and strict entry protocols, the buildings are beautifully maintained, and retain much of their sacred atmosphere.
The eleven rock-hewn churches are divided into two main groups by the UNESCO World Heritage confederation. To the north of the Jordan River you will find Biete Medhani Alem (House of the Saviour of the World), Biete Mariam (House of Mary), Biete Maskal (House of the Cross), Biete Denagel (House of Virgins), Biete Golgotha Mikael (House of Golgotha Mikael).
South of the Jordan you can see Biete Amanuel (House of Emmanuel), Biete Qeddus Mercoreus (House of St. Mercoreos), Biete Abba Libanos (House of Abbot Libanos), Biete Gabriel Raphael (House of Gabriel Raphael), and Biete Lehem (House of Holy Bread). Biete Ghiorgis (House of St. George) sits apart from the others.
Each church was intended to play a specific role in Lalibela’s holy land, and thus became a target of Muslim invaders. The churches withstood the invaders assault, adding to their legendary status as holy places. Many legends surround the origins and history of each of the eleven churches, and your local guide will draw you into a rich and fascinating exploration.
Even for those not intrigued by history or religion, the churches are recognized for their artistic significance as well. Carved entirely in relief, the structures represent some of the most sophisticated carvings monumental architectural achievements of their time or any other.
Contact your Ker & Downey luxury travel consultant to begin planning your journey to Ethiopia. While many can describe the impact of the churches of Lalibela, their true magnificence awaits those who see them with their own eyes.