Situated in the highlands about 700 kilometers north of Addis Ababa, the magnificent rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are not to be missed. This group of eleven monolithic and semi-monolithic structures was carved directly into the stone of the mountainside at least 800 years ago. This complex boasts the largest monolithic church in the world, a maze of passageways and tunnels, intricately carved reliefs, and fabulous examples of icon paintings. Churches such as Emanuel, St. George, St. Mary, and Medhane Alem were built by carving a massive rectangular trench around a solid stone block. This solid block was then hollowed out, leaving interior columns, windows, reliefs, etc. Other churches were carved into the stone but leaving either one side or the roof attached to the surrounding stone. Not only the craftsmanship but also the sheer size of the churches are stunning. Medhane Alem, the largest, sits on 800 square meters and St. George is 15 meters deep.
The churches of Lalibela still function as important centers of worship for members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This is living history that the priests, monks, nuns, and Christians of Lalibela have kept alive with their devotions, hymns, and celebrations for hundreds of years. The rock floors and pathways are incredibly smooth, having been worn down by millions of feet over the centuries. Visitors are required to remove their shoes upon entering the churches.
Rock-hewn churches are prevalent in northern Ethiopia, but Lalibela's are the most impressive and are included on UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. No visitor to Ethiopia should miss them.
Select an image below to view photos of Lalibela: