“Seldom visited by foreign tourists over the past few decades due to its continuing political problems, Ethiopia is most well known as being the possible cradle of humankind. Fossil remains (the famous Lucy) discovered in northeastern Ethiopia have been dated to roughly 3.5 million years, making them the earliest known example of an upright walking hominid. The oldest known stone tools, dating to 2.4 million years, were also found in this same region. But Ethiopia has numerous other claims to fame, including the mysterious granite obelisks of Axum, the extraordinary rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and – most enigmatic of all – the church of St. Mary of Zion, probable location of the Holy Ark of the Covenant.” (From www.sacredsites.com)
It is Lalibela that we are going to look at here, as it is one of the most fascinating sites in the world.
The carved churches of Lalibela were sculpted out of rock and are deeply set into the ground. Each church was sculpted inside and out and it is thought that the workers took 24 years to complete the work. They used tools specially developed for the purpose and what they accomplished would be a difficult job even now. Some of the churches connect via tunnels and, inside, are richly painted with murals. Several of the churches are still in use today.
Lalibela was originally the city of Roha but the name was changed to Lalibela, after King Lalibela who reigned from 1167 to 1207. The story of the young Prince Lalibela, who went on to become the King that commissioned these unique churches is a colourful legend. The name Lalibela means “the bees recognise his sovereignty”. He was so named by his mother as a swarm of bees attended his birth and surrounded the infant. Later in life his brother tried to poison him and during this illness he was taken by angels to meet God. While in the heavenly realm he was assured that no one would try to harm him again and he was instructed to build the churches in this unusual style. As soon as he recovered he did just that. For a good overview of the history of Lalibela and to hear the story of King Lalibela watch this clip:
From Wiki: Lalibela is a town in northern Ethiopia. Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and is a center of pilgrimage for much of the country. Unlike Aksum, the population of Lalibela is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. Lalibela was intended to be a New Jerusalem in response to the capture of Jerusalem by Muslims, and many of its historic buildings take their name and layout from buildings in Jerusalem.