“By vast expense and hideous pain, the rock a church became”, wrote a historian in the 17th century. Lalibela is also described as the “African Petra” or “New Jerusalem“. Undoubtedly the 12 rock hewn churches, whose construction started during the reign of king Lalibela (13th century), are one of the foremost wonders of the world. The legend tells that Lalibela received a heavenly vision and angels helped to finish the work in a short time. But it is more likely that Lalibela received his inspiration during his exile in Jerusalem, which gave him a longing to built a kind of “new Jerusalem” in Ethiopia, accessible for all Ethiopians.
Lying in the rugged Lasta mountains it is still a rather isolated place and the little town has not changed since the building of the churches 700 years ago. When your walk around in the perfectly shaped churches, using the underground tunnels to go from one church to another and hearing the distant chanting of the monks, you feel as if a time-machine has brought you back to a mysterious middle age world. In the rough mountain landscape which surrounds Lalibela, interesting tours can be made, walking or on the back of a donkey, to enjoy the splendid views on your way to the several rock-hewn churches in the environs of Lalibela.
Genete Mariam is one of the most interesting outlying churches, a large monolith carved into a pink-tinged outcrop near the source of the Tekaze River. Supported by pillars, the church is very different from any of the excavation in Lalibela that it is not hidden within a trench, but carved openly on a rocky hilltop – though the cover of scaffolding rather detracts from the impact of seeing from afar according to tradition Genata Mariam was excavated during the reign of Yakuno Amlak, the king who ‘restored’ the Solomonic line in the early 13th century.
Yimrehanna Kristos Lying 42KM northeast of Lalibela,Yimrehanna Kristos it is an exquisite Church, a masterpiece of Axumite wood and stone construction and renowned for its interior decoration, it’s beautiful wooden coffer ceiling inlaid with hexagons and medallions with both figurative and geometric motifs.
Naakute Le’Abe King Nakuto abdicated his throne in 1270 AD and went to a cave to lead a hermit’s life. This cave has ever since became a monastery and has dramatic setting.
Asheten Mariam A 13th C. rock hewn monastery found about 8 kms from Lalibela lying on an altitude of almost 4,000m. It is carved out of a cleft into a cliff face. The setting of the church and the view on the way up is a rewarding experience.
Arbatu Enssessa An old church detached from the surrounding rock on two sides. The pillars and doors mimicking the Axumite design. It is dedicated to the four beasts, symbol of the four evangelists who followed Kidus Yohanesss.
Bilbala Giorgis Found 30 km North West of Lalibela ,this church is excavated only in the front and is often surrounded by a swarm of supposedly sacred bees. Powder made from crushed rocks near is believed to be a valuable skin treatment. Bilbala Cherqos A semi-monolithic church properly orientated and has been worked from a piece tuff from east to west. It is architecturally reminiscent of the facade of Bet Gabriel-Rufa’el and the admirable murals depicting saints and the Evangelists in the interior are of particular interest to the visitor.