A few weeks back I took a trip with 2 friends to the town of Lalibela. Located in Northeastern Ethiopia, this town was once the capital of the Zagwe Dynasty and previously known as Roha. Oral history dictates that King Lalibela ( reigned from 12-13th century) poisoned by his brother in order to gain control of the throne, came back to life after several days of his death with a vision from god to build “a New Jerusalem”. With that vision he began carving what is now a series of 11 rock-hewn churches, intricately chiseled out of solid rock.
The result, still standing over 1000 years later is a spectacular wonder and architectural triumph. The site was the series of churches, crypts and grottoes are overpowering. No pictures of these grandeur structures parallels standing within their compounds. While traversing the narrow, dimly lit passage ways or taking the time to observe the intricate wall art, I was constantly in awe of the manpower and determination that it must have taken to complete such masterpieces. It is something you have to see in person.
We spent the day getting a history lesson as passed through the different churches. It was inspiring and definitely exceeded my expectations. The churches are still in use today and great care is taken to preserve them after hundreds of years of neglect. They serve as the epicenter for the Ethiopian Orthodox festival of Epiphany, where thousands of pilgrims descend on the town of Lalibela in search of spiritual rejuvenation.
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UNESCO has erected obscure “Swedish” inspired roofs to protect some of the churches from the elements that have not been so kind over the years. These futuristic structures blatantly contrast with their surroundings. Despite their incongruity these protective structures do not detract from the real attraction.
We spent the night in a quaint hotel or series of tukuls, but with a modern twist. It was a great way to bottom out after an eventful day of “Indiana Jones-eque” adventures. We even had the hats to go along with the character.