Photos of Lalibela and its rock-hewn churches, Ethiopia

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Lalibela and its rock-hewn churches

Lalibela, named after its 13th-century royal founder, is a small town of about 15,000 inhabitants in the Semien Wollo Zone of the Amhara ethnic division, at an altitude of 2,500 metres and surrounded by a rocky and dry area where, only in the rainy season, farmers grow their crops. It is a friendly traditional village with circular shaped houses.

Lalibela town centre
 
Hillside houses
 
Thatched house
 
Various houses
 
Bete Giyorgis church
 
Church of St George
 
Roof and walls
 
Church bell
 
Thatched houses
 
View of the hills
 
View to town
 
Houses on the hill
 
Bete Amanuel church
 
Ceiling, Bete Amanuel
 
Priest, Bete Amanuel
 
Fresco, Bete Merkorius
 
Priest, Bete Merkorios
 
Bete Abba Libanos church
 
Priest, Bete Abba Libanos
 
Round thatched houses
 
Typical house
 
Two little boys
 
A little girl
 
Treasures, Bete Gabriel-Rufael
 
Illustrated bible
 
Mummies of monks
 
Priest, Golgotha church
 
Relief carving, Bete Golgotha
 
Bete Maryam church
 
Priest, Bete Maryam
 
Ceiling, Bete Maryam
 
Painting, Bete Medhane Alem
 
Bete Medhane Alem
 
Airport Road
 
View near Lalibela
 
View near Lalibela
 

Lalibela is the site of a spectacular complex of 11 rock-hewn Christian churches in mountainous north-central Ethiopia. The churches are of two types: shrine-like grottoes, of which there are four, carved into natural cavities in the mountain slope, and seven monolithic freestanding structures, the foundations of which descend deep into the rock plateau. The freestanding churches, which are still used for worship, are built on a cruciform plan. Three equilateral crosses, carved one inside the other, decorate the roofs, which are level with the plateau. The church interiors were originally covered with mural paintings of scenes from the life of Christ, few of which survive. Accompanying geometric and floral motifs bear the influence of Coptic art and architecture. The churches are connected to each other by small passages and tunnels. Lalibela was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

King Lalibela, whose name means "even the bee recognises his sovereignty" was one of the rulers of the Zagwe dynasty, whose leaders had risen up in the tenth Century and seized powers from the kings of Aksum. There are a lot of legends about King Lalibela. One is that his older brother poisoned him and, while he slept for three days, he was brought to heaven, where he was shown a city of rock-hewn churches which he then decided to replicate. Another legend says he went into exile to Jerusalem and got a vision to create a new Jerusalem. So, it is said, Lalibela and his workmen, aided by angels, carved out the eleven churches of living rock that stands on the site of Rowa, the capital of the Zagwe dynasty wich ruled over Ethiopia from the 10th century to the mid 13th century. Roha was renamed "Lalibela" in the builder's honour.