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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lalibela is a definite "must see" in Ethiopia!

During our trip to Ethiopia in November, we took a day-trip and flew to Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia.  This was my fourth trip to Ethiopia, and the first time I had been able to carve out a time to visit this exceptional archeaological site - and I am so thankful that we did!

As the legend is told, King Lalibela traveled to Jerusalem where he got his inspiration to create a "New Jerusalem" in Ethiopia after Muslims captured the "old" Jerusalem in 1187.  His legacy is this archeological wonder of 13 rock-hewn churches dating from the 12th and 13th century.  Each church is carved from the very rock on which it stands - some are completely monolithic meaning the rock was carved completely away from all sides of the church and it is only attached at its base, and others are still attached on one side to the rock from which they were carved.

The huge size and scale of these churches, and the reality that they were completely carved by hand from the surrounding volcanic rock, is nothing short of amazing!  The detail of the exterior is incredible - and then each church was completely carved out on the interior too with incredible detail!!

The churches were hewn out of solid rock in such a short time frame, legend says that angels assisted with the endeavor.  With many historic sites, you see photos and read about the history, and then when you actually arrive you view it from a distance.  But that was NOT how we experienced Lalibela!!

We hiked for most of the day, in and out of the rock hewn churches with our guide, Mario, who spent his childhood playing in and around the churches, and is an expert on the history of Lalibela. 

From intense sunshine that revealed intricate chisel marks on the exterior, we then took off our shoes before entering each church, and waited for our eyes to adjust to the darkness of the cool, cave-like interiors.  We craned our necks to view the entire height of these structures, and then hiked to the top and gazed straight down over the edge!

All day, we hiked through the churches, sometimes scaling the walls to get to the next structure, with monks singing and praying all around us.   At times we walked in complete darkness through underground tunnels with no light to guide us, running one hand on the side wall and the other on the ceiling as we trustingly put one foot in front of the other. 

What I loved about our trip to Lalibela was that we fully experienced it - with back packs chafing our skin, sweaty shirts sticking to our backs, the toes of our shoes gripping the rock wall where small hand-holds and foot-holds were carved into the walls centuries ago!

Early that morning, we flew to Lalibela from Addis since to drive it would have taken over 24 hours.  From the plane (a 40 seat aircraft that runs the "historical circuit" of Ethiopia with stops in Gondor, Lalibela and Axum) we could look down on the incredibly rugged terrain of the Ethiopian highlands (rain here feeds the Nile river!) and see the massive size of Lake Tana. 

We were picked up at the airport, and our van immediately scaled the winding roads up to higher elevation where we checked in to our "MountainView" hotel with incredible views. (Thank you to Jessica Irvin for her outstanding recommendations on our guide and our hotel!!)

And from there ... we were off to tour the churches in an all-day excursion that left us all exhausted but agreeing that this was an incredibly worthwhile historical site which has our vote for being named the 8th wonder of the world!

After a long hot day of hiking and climbing, it was great to find a shady seat
in a small cafe for a fresh mango, banana and avocado smoothie.

1 comment:

Kristi and Dale said...

Awesome! Thanks for taking us there in pictures!!