Lalibela is one of the UNESCO-registered heritage sites with cave churches from the 13th century. It is situated in a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia near a traditional village with circular-shaped dwellings. The place of pilgrimage and devotion Lalibela has eleven ancient churches carved out of gigantic rocks. Most of the constructions were churches while a few were considered to be mansions of royal families. The famous cross shaped Biete Giorgis cut 40 feet down on the ground is the spectacle of the place. The buildings are masterpieces of King Lalibela who was determined to erect the “New Jerusalem” in the land of Africa.
The clergies of the churches clad in “Gabi”, a white traditional long scarf are another source of attraction to the place. Their life is entirely based inside the church. They neither leave the church nor interact with the public. They survive on barley, water and a traditionally fermented local drink called “tella”. They spend all day praying and reading religious ancient books.
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Biete Medhani Alem
Biete Medhani Alem is believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world. All the structures represent a unique artistic work which are preserved in their natural setting. Resembling a massive Greek temple, Biete Medhane Alem (House of the Savior of the World) is impressive for its size. The building is surrounded by 34 large rectangular columns which are joined at each corner representing the Holy Trinity. The three empty graves in one corner are said to have been prepared symbolically for holy men mentioned in the Bible. On Sundays, worshippers gather here to be blessed and healed by the famous 7kg gold cross.
Connected to Bet Medhane Alem through a tunnel, it is a large courtyard containing three churches. The first, Bet Maryam, designed and decorated in an exceptionally high standard is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who is particularly venerated in Ethiopia. On the eastern wall, there are three windows. The upper set is thought to represent the Holy Trinity, while the lower small cross-shaped window is believed to represent the crucifixion of Jesus and two prisoners.
Extended through a series of trenches and tunnels that start from Bet Gabriel, this church started as something altogether different. Scholars believe it may have served as the town’s prison or house of justice. It has Christ’s painting around the 16th century on cotton fabric next to the frescoes.
Most of the best hotels are located at the center of the town offering a variety of local and international dishes. The traditional Ethiopian dishes are also of high quality and spicy. Book at Jovago to have an adventure of a lifetime enjoying best negotiated rates. Waking down into the churches requires familiarity as the steps can be steep hence it’s good to hire guides who are ready to support visitors and hold shoes as people are required to enter inside the church barefoot. They also give you expert tour explaining all the sights.
When to Visit
Although visiting is open all year long, it is preferable in January so as to see the annual Timkat (Ethiopian Epiphany) carnival on the 19th.
Lalibela is the safest place to visit without worrying about security issues. Locals are friendly making you feel at home while you explore the historical town.
Meeting yekolo temari (music and bible students) gives you the escapade of unforgettable memory. They are wonderful vocalist and poets who are not shy to show their skills. Guides can translate the lyrics made for each visitor.
+251 – Visitors with identification card can purchase SIM cards from shops to make local and international calls.
Ethiopian Airlines flies to Lalibela Airport daily while road trips with comfortable buses takes a full day.
Ethiopian birr, dollars and euros are accepted at all hotels. State and private banks convert foreign currency into local currency easing transaction. Exchange rates can be accessed at http://www.nbe.gov.et/market/banksexchange.html