Wednesday 31 January 2018

ETHIOPIA: Lalibela, Jerusalem Of Ethiopia With Miraculous Underground Churches, Eighth Wonder Of The World

Lalibela is a rural town of 15,000 people in a stunning setting at an elevation of 2,600 m (8,500 ft) in the midst of the Lasta mountains in the eastern highlands of Northern Ethiopia.

Its unique and remarkable monolithic churches hewn from living rock, most built more than 900 years ago, are one of Ethiopia's leading attractions and were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978.
According to the 2007 Census Data, the population was 17,367, of whom 8,112 were males and 9,255 were females.

Based on previous figures from the Central Statistical Agency in 2005, the town had an estimated total population of 14,668 of whom 7,049 were males and 7,619 were females.

The 1994 national census recorded its population to be 8,484 of whom 3,709 were males and 4,775 were females.
It's a common scene in Lalibela, a small town in northern Ethiopia that's home to 11 spectacular churches carved both inside and out from a single rock some 900 years ago.

The chiseled creations have turned this mountain town into a place of pride and pilgrimage for worshipers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, attracting 80,000 to 100,000 visitors every year.

Carved out of volcanic tuff rock, the famous churches have been built in a variety of styles. Some of them were chiseled into the face of the rock, where others stand as isolated blocks, like the iconic church of Saint George, constructed in the shape of the cross.

A complex and extensive system of drainage ditches, tunnels and subterranean passageways connects the underground structures.
Lalibela is a town in Amhara Region, northern Ethiopia famous for monolithic rock-cut churches. The whole of Lalibela offers an exceptional testimony to the medieval and post-medieval civilization of Ethiopia.

Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and a center of pilgrimage. Unlike Aksum, the population of Lalibela is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian.

Ethiopia was one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity in the first half of the fourth century, and its historical roots date to the time of the Apostles.

The churches themselves date from the seventh to thirteenth centuries, and are traditionally dated to the reign of the Zagwe dynasty king Gebre Mesqel Lalibela 1181–1221 AD.

The layout and names of the major buildings in Lalibela are widely accepted, especially by local clergy, to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem.

This has led some experts to date the current church forms to the years following the capture of Jerusalem in 1187 by Muslim leader, Saladin.

Lalibela is located in the Semien Wollo Zone of the Amhara Region, at roughly 2,500 meters above sea level.

It is the main town in Lasta woreda, which was formerly part of Bugna woreda. The Rock-Hewn Churches were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Lalibela is a great little town to visit. Its complex of churches chiselled from pink volcanic rock have been called the eighth wonder of the world.

In addition, the wonderful year-round climate and exhilarating mountain views, combined with some of the finest lodgings outside of the capital, are reason to spend a few days soaking up the fine vistas.

Lalibela's relative isolation and small size means you will get to understand more intimately and thoroughly the innate piety and hard lives of the rural poor.

To the north of Lalibela, Dewosach, where much of the decorating and illumination of holy books was done in the time of King Lalibela, rises more than another 1,000 m (3,280 ft) above Lalibela to 3,670 m (12,040 ft) while the much nearer and slightly lower Asheten with its distinctive flat top lies to the east.

Asheten means smell in Amharic and this mesa was named during the reign of King Lalibela's nephew, King Neakutoleab, who burned frankincense while building Saint Mary's church on its summit, visiting monks said they found it by following the smell.

This is not to say that everything in the garden is rosy. Women here bear an unfair workload, and you may wince when you see little girls of five and six bent double and almost hidden from view by the immense load of firewood on their backs while their elder brothers play games they like.

Sanitation and public cleanliness is a bit haphazard so there are more flies here than in Tigray to the north.

To the south of the north-west complex of churches you can still see some older dwellings built in the style peculiar to Lalibela, neat round two storey dwellings built out of stone with conical, thatched roofs.

Most other buildings are either wattle and daub structures or improvised buildings with corrugated roofs patched with thatch.

There could hardly be more of a contrast with the ancient craftsmanship of the ecclesiastical buildings which must surely be unique in all the world for having been built from the top down rather than from the ground up.

Guides in Ethiopia are licensed in different ways for different areas / sites by the Ethiopian government. The guides for the rock hewn churches are specialised-licensed for the 11 churches. The federally licensed tour guides can operate all around Ethiopia but cannot take you into the churches in Lalibela town.

Since the town, first called Roha, was founded by the eponymous King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela of the Zagwe dynasty more than 900 years ago as the new Jerusalem.

The later renamed Lalibela has been a major ecclesiastical centre of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and a place of pilgrimage to its amazing concentration of rock-hewn churches.

Pious Ethiopians often walk hundreds of kilometres in bare feet from all over Ethiopia to receive blessings.

Although all the church exteriors and interiors are carved from soft volcanic tufa, their architecture is extremely diverse: some stand as isolated monoliths in deep pits, while others have been cut into the face of a cliff.

Establishing a sequence or chronology for a rock-hewn building is much more difficult than for a conventional one, especially when the churches in Lalibela are all in daily use for services.

The Ethiopian Orthodox tradition unequivocally recognises the huge task represented by the cutting of these churches and their associated trenches, passages and tunnels.

It explains the completion of the excavation during the reign of a single saintly king by attributing much of the work to angels who, after the workmen had downed tools for the day, came in on a night shift and worked twice as fast as the human day shift had done. In this way, work proceeded so fast that all the churches are said to have been completed within King Lalibela’s quarter-century rule.

Some argue that the oldest of the rock-hewn features at Lalibela may date to the 7th or 8th centuries CE, about 500 years earlier than the traditional dating.

These first monuments were not originally churches, although they were subsequently extended in a different architectural style and converted to ecclesiastical use.

Later perhaps around the 12th or 11th century the finest and most sophisticated churches were added, carved as three- or five-aisled basilicas and retaining many architectural features derived from those of ancient Aksum, which had flourished some 400–800 years previously.

Several of the features attributed to this last phase bear names like the Tomb of Adam or the Church of Golgotha, which mirror those of places visited by pilgrims to Jerusalem and its environs.

This naming has extended to natural features: the seasonal river which flows though the site is known as Yordanos or Jordan and a nearby hill is Debra Zeit or Mount of Olives.

It seems that it was King Lalibela who gave the place its present complexity and form: a substitute for Jerusalem as a place of pilgrimage.

It may be significant that early in King Lalibela’s reign the Muslim Salah-ad-Din (Saladin) had captured Jerusalem, and for this reason Ethiopians may have felt excluded from making their traditional pilgrimage to the Holy Land across the Red Sea.

Today, a cloth-draped feature in the Church of Golgotha is pointed out as the Tomb of King Lalibela.

During the reign of Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela a member of the Zagwe Dynasty, who ruled Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early 13th century, the current town of Lalibela was known as Roha.

The saintly king was named so, because a swarm of bees is said to have surrounded him at his birth, which his mother took as a sign of his future reign as Emperor of Ethiopia.

The names of several places in the modern town and the general layout of the rock-cut churches themselves are said to mimic names and patterns observed by Lalibela during the time he spent as a youth in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

Lalibela, revered as a saint, is said to have seen Jerusalem, and then attempted to build a new Jerusalem as his capital in response to the capture of old Jerusalem by Muslims in 1187.

Each church was carved from a single piece of rock to symbolize spirituality and humility.
Christian faith inspires many features with Biblical names even Lalibela's river is known as the River Jordan. Lalibela remained the capital of Ethiopia from the late 12th into the 13th century.
According to the Futuh al-Habasa of Sihab ad-Din Ahmad, Ahmad Gragn burned one of the churches of Lalibela during his invasion of Ethiopia.

However, Richard Pankhurst has expressed his skepticism about this event, pointing out that although Sihab ad-Din Ahmad provides a detailed description of a rock-hewn church It was carved out of the mountain.

Its pillars were likewise cut from the mountain, only one church is mentioned; Pankhurst adds that what is special about Lalibela, as every tourist knows is that it is the site of eleven or so rock churches, not just one.

They are all within more or less a stone's throw of each other. Pankhurst also notes that the Royal Chronicles, which mention Ahmad Gragn's laying waste to the district between July and September 1531, are silent about the Imam ravaging the fabled churches of this city.

He concludes by stating that had Ahmad Gragn burned a church at Lalibela, it was most likely Bete Medhane Alem; and if the Muslim Army was either mistaken or misled by the locals.

Then the church he set fire to was Gannata Maryam, 10 miles east of Lalibela which likewise has a colonnade of pillars cut from the mountain.

This rural town is known around the world for its churches carved from within the earth from living rock, which play an important part in the history of rock-cut architecture.

Though the dating of the churches is not well established, most are thought to have been built during the reign of Lalibela, namely during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Unesco identifies 11 churches, assembled in four groups:

Northern Group:

- Biete Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the World), home to the Lalibela Cross.

- Biete Maryam (House of Miriam/House of Mary), possibly the oldest of the churches, and a replica of the Tombs of Adam and Christ.

- Biete Golgotha Mikael (House of Golgotha Mikael), known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela

- Biete Meskel (House of the Cross)

- Biete Denagel (House of Virgins)

Western Group:

- Biete Giyorgis (Church of Saint George), thought to be the most finely executed and best preserved church

Eastern Group

- Biete Amanuel (House of Emmanuel), possibly the former royal chapel

- Biete Qeddus Mercoreus (House of St Mercoreos/House of St Mark), which may be a former prison

- Biete Abba Libanos (House of Abbot Libanos)

- Biete Gabriel-Rufael (House of the angels Gabriel, and Raphael) possibly a former royal palace, linked to a holy bakery.

- Biete Lehem (House of Holy Bread).

Farther afield, lie the monastery of Ashetan Maryam and Yimrehane Kristos Church, possibly eleventh century, built in the Aksumite fashion, but within a cave.

Since the time spent to carve these structures from the living rock must have taken longer than the few decades of King Lalibela's reign, it is assumed that the work extended into the 14th century.
However, David Phillipson, professor of African archeology at Cambridge University, has proposed that the churches of Merkorios, Gabriel-Rufael, and Danagel were initially carved out of the rock half a millennium earlier.

Fortifications or other palace structures in the waning days of the Axumite Kingdom, and that Lalibela's name simply came to be associated with them after his death.

On the other hand, local historian Getachew Mekonnen credits Masqal Kibra, Lalibela's queen, with having one of the rock-hewn churches (Abba Libanos) built as a memorial for her husband after his death.

The churches are also a significant engineering feat, given that they are all associated with water which fills the wells next to many of the churches, exploiting an artesian geological system that brings the water up to the top of the mountain ridge on which the city rests.

In a 1970 report of the historic dwellings of Lalibela, Sandro Angelini evaluated the vernacular earthen architecture on the Lalibela World Heritage Site, including the characteristics of the traditional earth houses and analysis of their state of conservation.

His report described two types of vernacular housing found in the area. One type are a group he calls the "tukuls", round huts built of stone and usually having two stories.

The second are the single-storey "chika" buildings which are round and built of earth and wattle, which he feels reflects more scarcity.

Angel's report also included an inventory of Lalibela's traditional buildings, placing them in categories rating their state of conservation.

Lalibela is also home to an airport, a large market, two schools and a hospital.

Ethiopian Airlines has scheduled flights every day to Lalibela Airport. There are direct flights from Axum, Bahir Dar and Gondar and indirect flights from Addis Ababa, and direct flights to Addis Ababa, Axum and Gondar, but not to Bahir Dar.

Flights are often overbooked; make sure you reconfirm your seat at least one day in advance and show up at the airport on time.

Flights can be rescheduled or cancelled at short notice because of weather or operational reasons.

The airport is mid-sized, which seems over-sized for a small town like Lalibela. It's 27 km from town and at least 30 minutes by shared minibus.

The road is asphalted but was poorly constructed and parts are in poor condition.

The roads to the small town of Gashena, south of Lalibela, are asphalted from Bahir Dar and Gondar to the west, and Woldia to the east.

From there it is 1-2 hours over a road that is unsealed except for the last part from Lalibela Airport to the town. From Bahir Dar the drive takes about 7-8 hours and from Gondar about 10-11 hours.

It is possible to get private drivers in both Bahir Dar and Gondar and would cost about 2,000-4,000 birr depending on negotiations, location and driver.

There is also an unsealed road to Lalibela from the north, but even if coming from Axum and Adwa, it is quicker and easier to take the sealed road via Adigrat and Woldia.

There is a daily bus from Addis Ababa. It is a two-day journey with an overnight stop at Dessie. The bus passes through Woldia mid-morning and will pick up passengers from the bus station if it has room.

Another bus runs daily from Woldia, leaving at dawn. Both the Woldia and Addis Ababa buses depart Lalibela at 06:00.

It is usually possible to get to/from Bahir Dar by bus in one day by changing buses at Gashena, about one or two bumpy hours from Lalibela depending on traffic and weather.

If you are travelling to or from Gondar by bus, you will usually have to spend the night somewhere.

Coming from Axum the most plausible way would take about two nights with stopovers in Mekele and Woldia.

However, if you are lucky you might be able to catch a shared taxi in Mekele which brings you along highway 1 to Woldia.

The next day you can catch a bus heading towards Bahir Dar with a stop at the Gashena junction to Lalibela where you have to wait for another bus/car to bring you to Lalibela. This might take a few hours.

You may lose a few kilos walking up and down the streets some cobbled, some dirt since there are few conventional taxis and Lalibela is pleasantly free of buzzing bajaji engines.

You can rent minibuses to drive you around town for about 25 birr per person (minimum 50 birr). Unlike bigger towns and cities in Ethiopia, no blue and white minibuses regularly run through Lalibela.

You can walk safely around town and people will greet with many wanting to practice their English or offer their services or wares. School children may try to befriend you, and follow you around, perhaps beg.

From 2010 onwards the government has tried to forbid begging, and the situation is now much better than before, but many people still beg after a long conversation or invite you to their homes where more successful begging can be done.

This town is known around the world for its churches hewn from the top down into living rock, most of which were built during the reign of the eponymous Lalibela, king of Ethiopia, when he moved his capital here in the Zagwe period.

Contrary to certain spurious myths, they were not built with the help of the Knights Templar; rather, they were produced solely by medieval Ethiopian civilization.

However, there is controversy as to when the churches were constructed. Some scholars believe that the churches were built well before Lalibela and that Lalibela simply named them after himself. They were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978.

It's a good idea to get up before dawn to be at the ticket office when it opens at 06:00. This way you will hear the deep bass rhythms of the church drums and the haunting chants of the priests and congregation at mass.

There are also fewer flies and wanna-be guides pestering you. Ethiopian birds are colourful and more of them are about just after dawn.

A great time to visit is on Sunday mornings, when hundreds of people descend on the churches for traditional Ethiopian Orthodox worship.

Looking inside the churches is less intrusive after 10:00, and what you lose in birdlife is compensated by red, yellow and blue headed lizards scampering over the rough terrain.

The 11 churches are in three clusters, all within easy walking distance of each other:

The north-western group of 6 churches includes:
1 - Bet Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the World), home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world, probably a copy of Saint Mary of Zion in Axum.

It is linked to Bet Maryam St Mary's, possibly the oldest of the churches, Bet Golgotha known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela, the Selassie Chapel and the Tomb of Adam.

The north-eastern group of 4 churches includes:

2 - Bet Amanuel possibly the former royal chapel, Bet Merkorios which may be a former prison, Bet Abba Libanos and Bet Gabriel-Rufael possibly a former royal palace, linked to a holy bakery.

3 - Bet Giyorgis or St George's Church, unique in all the world in its cruciform style, is very well preserved and on its own 500 m to the south.

The churches are open 06:00-12:00, and 14:00-17:00. Admission to all costs US$50 for adults, and USD25 for children aged 9-13 ticket valid for 5 days.

Entry is free for children under 9 and Ethiopians without a foreign passport. Licenced guides are available from the tourist office in Lalibela for 200 birr per day.

These guides are well trained and have an excellent working knowledge of the churches and good relationships with the priests.

Unlicensed guides will approach you all over the village, but they often know very little about the churches and are best avoided.

You need to take your shoes off before entering the churches. As there are numerous churches, you will do this a number of times.

You may find it easier to wear slip-on footwear, such as flip-flops. The rock between churches in each cluster, although uneven, has been worn smooth over the centuries.

You might even take a plastic bag to pop your footwear into, and walk barefoot between the churches as many pilgrims do.

Farther afield lie the monasteries of Na’akuto La’ab (4 km south) and 4 Ashetan Maryam, and Yimrehane Kristos church possibly 11th century, built in the Axumite fashion but within a cave.

Visit the weekly market on Saturday, not much you would want to buy, some local weaving possibly, but an invaluable insight into local life. Make sure you visit the donkey park.

Holidays. 7 Jan in the Gregorian calendar used by most of the world, Ethiopian Christmas or Ledet; 19 Jan , Epiphany or Timkat are two of the most festive.

Lalibela in particular gets packed during these times, so best to plan in advance. September 11 is the Ethiopian New Year, Enkutatash.
Hike to Mount Abuna Yosef, Main Street, Lower Town, Lalibela. Mt Abuna Yosef is within hiking distance from Lalibela town.

It and the surrounding conservation areas are only reachable on foot and can be done through a multiday hike along the escaprment.

The route can also include some of the churches further out of Lalibela town. If you are feeling fit and adventurous, go hike. It's probably best to spend at least one night in the mountains. 2-3 nights is plenty. Approx 100 USD per day for two people all inclusive..

Public Library, Kedemt Rd close to the ticket office for the church complexes. A modern, airy building opened by the United Kingdom's Princess Anne on 9 Oct 2002 with a small stock of books in Amharic and an even smaller stock many of them textbooks in English.

Ethiopia Cookery School, at Blu Lal Hotel, Although the women who runs this stayed in France for several years she never learned to cook properly.

However, she is probably just the person to teach you how to make injera with a fine and tasty wat over an open fire. USD50 for one, USD30 each for two or three.

There is an ATM at Dashen Bank on the ground floor of the Aman Hotel close to the Ethiopian Airlines office, and another next door at the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia.

The Dashen one permits up to 2000 birr in one transaction with multiple daily transactions possible up to your daily card limit. Only Visa is accepted.

For other card holders the only option besides having an acquaintance send money via Western Union is to go to the Mountain View Hotel. They will charge MasterCard plus a 10% surcharge and give you birr.

The best stocked place in Lalibela is the WOW Supermarket on the west side of the steep Sebat Woyra Road about 200 m before it joins Adebabay Street by the Seven Olives Hotel.

1 Ben Abeba perhaps 700m uphill from the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and turn into the same road as the Cliff Edge Hotel.

Whimsical looking Gaudi meets Mad Max restaurant. It has a gob-smacking location on a little hillock standing on a rock promontory to give in-credible 360 degree views and is surrounded by rock gardens and flowers, Ben means hill in Scots Gaelic and Abeba means flowers in Amharic.

The menu is one of the most imaginative in Ethiopia, you should try the tuna pate drizzled in lemon juice with tiny home-made oatcakes and their savoury home-made bread is delicious and reasonably priced.

Get up early and go to Ben Abeba for breakfast to see the sun rise over the valleys.

This is a terrific spot for watching brightly coloured weaver birds investigating the variegated seed sources in this restaurant's garden and you are on the same level as soaring birds such as lammergeier, falcons and eagles.

John Cafe. Good food and terrific mixed fruit juices. A handy place for refreshments when you've walked back up the hill from the churches.

The restaurant at the Seven Olives Hotel serves some of the largest and tastiest helpings in Lalibela. Their steak stuffed with rice and vegetables and served with a most delicious kita made from aga is delicious and large enough to feed two.

This delightful restaurant set in a mature garden in the commercial centre of town is circular, with a giant 10m diameter weaving forming the ceiling and making you feel like you are under the giant traditional cover of a mittad cooking injera.
Hotel Lalibela in the south downhill, on the main street with the souvenir shops opposite Tukul Village Lodge excellent food in the attached restaurant for reasonable rates. 30-100 Birr

In addition to the places below, there are cheaper local places with tej or honey wine for 5-10 birr per bottle.

Torpido Tejbet (Askelech) a short distance down lane opposite the police station. Tej, azmari music and dancing.

Don't be put off by the unprepossessing access way inside it is attractively decorated and has a great atmosphere, with good singers and dancers performing on the floor. The toilets, which are separate, are grotty though.

Mar Telo Bar far north on the main road, opposite Red Rock Hotel – there is only a small sign over the entrance.

Lovely local bar/restaurant run by an old lady with a scenic view over the valley in the back. You may have to dance. There are a few cheap rooms available. Tej is 10 birr per bottle, beer is 15 birr.

Lalibela has an extremely high proportion of faranji seeking accommodation, as opposed to locals; consequently budget accommodation is scarce and overpriced.

Many tourist class hotels have been built recently but the owners and managers have often never visited Addis Ababa, never mind travelled outside Ethiopia and seem to suffer the delusion that guests from Europe, Asia and Australasia will not understand prices in birr.

Consequently they invariably will quote a laughably high price in US dollars at first.

Prices quoted are for the low season of June-August and hoteliers will try to extort a much higher price during festivals and other busy times.

Most tourist class lodgings are concentrated in two areas:

Shimbrima at the north-western end of Adebabay St, many with stunning escarpment views and a gentle climb to the economic centre of town and a steeper descent to the church complexes.

Getergie at the south-western end of town, on and off Getergie Rd and without the stunning escarpment views but still with fine views of the surrounding buttes and mesas, but still a long way to the bus station on the eastern side of town.

Hotels in this district have both a steep climb to the church complexes and then an equally steep climb to the economic centre of town. However, maybe it's better to stagger downhill to your bed after a day's sightseeing.

For those arriving by bus, this very basic hotel may save them both some dosh and a long uphill hike to the town proper:

1 Tena Adam Hotel, Werk Dingay or "America" district behind bus station on the road to Lalibela Airport. Probably the only hotel in Lalibela which charges the same price for foreigners and Ethiopians.

There is no bargaining even on major holidays. Prices during Christmas and other holidays are the same. Rooms are comfortable with sturdy beds and blankets.

The common bathroom is clean and can accommodate many guests at the same time for those using the toilet and cold shower. The owner is Befekadu Sisay.

Top Twelve Hotel. Family owned and run and it shows in the spotlessly clean bedrooms and common areas and the attention to detail which means that everything works, a rare treat in Ethiopia.

Two stories high with a nice little lawn to enjoy the afternoon coffee ceremony; spectacular views from the twin sunloungers of each private balcony.

Shower rooms are up to European standards and each bedroom is beautifully furnished with locally themed and sourced furniture and furnishings but without TV or phone.

200 station satellite TV in the reception/restaurant area. Free Wi-Fi throughout. Car park is guarded 24 hours. 20kW standby generator, laundry service, weekly barbecue.

Worth a visit even if it is full and you cannot sleep in one of its 12 en suite rooms because of two features.

Its modern Ethiopian renaissance architecture and interior design that ranks amongst the best in the whole country – no chipped marble and faux Louis XIV curlicues here.

A right up-to-date Polish wall map of Ethiopia and surrounding countries so modern it even shows the border crossing with the new country of South Sudan and showing relief and all major features of interest to the traveler.

Filling stations and ATMs together with an accompanying wall poster in English with photographs listing the major tourist sights and features.

Sgl 690 birr, dbl/twin 890 birr including a cooked breakfast, MasterCard & VISA accepted with 5% surcharge.

Cliff Edge Hotel, A nondescript, 3 stories high, modern hotel sharing a spectacular view with the others in this location. 18 en suite rooms without TV or phone or a closet to hang your clothes but satellite TV in the reception area.

Free Wi-Fi throughout. Car park for 12 vehicles is guarded 24 hours. No standby generator, laundry service. Dismal restaurant with an even more dismal menu and kitchen. Sgl 800 birr, dbl/twin 1000 birr, triple 1200 birr, VISA accepted with 5% surcharge.

Mountain View Hotel,. Check-in: noon, check-out: noon. Modern architecture using local red rhyolitic tuff cladding of volcanic origin provides great views for each and every small room from their balconies perched one above the other.

3 stories high. 30 cramped rooms with no TV or phone, but satellite TV in the well stocked bar. All bedrooms have a hip bath with a shower above, desk and 2 chairs.

No Wi-Fi in the bedrooms but free in the common areas and attractive terrace. Car park for 20 vehicles is guarded 24 hours. 20 kW standby generator, laundry service.

Restaurant with the usual unimaginative, boring and misspelt faranji menu of spaghetti carbonara without bacon, omelettes, steaks but not as anyone in Argentina would recognise and French fries.
Sgl 1,200 birr, dbl/twin 1,400 birr (June 2013), MasterCard & VISA accepted with 5% surcharge. edit
Panoramic View Hotel, 35 en suite rooms without TV or phone or a closet to hang your clothes but satellite TV in the cave-like gloom of the reception area.

Perhaps they did not install u-bends in the plumbing, as after using the shower and going off to breakfast, one may come back to a sewer smell in the bathroom. Free Wi-Fi throughout.

Car park for 12 vehicles is guarded 24 hours. Brand new bus can carry groups of up to 20 people. Restaurant, laundry service, no standby generator. Sgl 800 birr, dbl/twin 1000 birr, triple 1200 birr includes full breakfast (June 2013), MasterCard & VISA accepted with 5% surcharge.

Mar Telo Bar, on the main road opposite Red Rock Hotel, easy to miss due to the small sign. Has cheap rooms for backpackers paired with a scenic view and cheap food and tej.

The old lady running it may not understand English you may need a translator. 250 birr single

Asheten Hotel, take the easterly fork off Adebabay St just south of the Ethiopian Airlines office and then keep right at subsequent junctions, it's a long uphill hike from the bus station. Nice, quiet place with hot showers. From 250 birr.

Seven Olives Hotel. The oldest hotel in Lalibela, founded in 1967 and badly in need of a freshening makeover, this dilapidated property is owned by the diocesan office.

Rooms are noisily close, clean, small and dark, with twins, double and triple beds and small en suite ablutions with hot showers. Substantially over-priced at 680 birr for single occupancy, dbl/twin 910 birr, triple 1280 birr.

Cash only. However, it has the best hygiene of the central hotels and has a peaceful garden with mature trees and one of the best restaurants in town.

Helen Hotel. Scruffy dive closest to the church complexes on the west side of Getergie Rd. Has satellite TV in the dirty bar.

Is getting renovated and may have only a small sample of rooms. Sgl 250 birr, dbl/twin 300 birr, triple 400 birr.

Lalibela Hotel down the main street with the souvenir shops on the left side, opposite Tukul Village. Nice, clean and luxurious rooms. It is newly build and has a bathtub and TV.

There is an excellent restaurant attached. 400-500 birr, more if you book online.

9 Roha Hotel. 63 small, cramped rooms with a tiny TV and DDI phone currently receiving 2 channels: Ethiopian TV and BBC World News.

Well stocked bar. All bedrooms have a wash handbasin in one corner and a separate ablutions with WC and a hip bath with a shower above, desk and chairs. Hot water is provided from a centralised boiler.

Wi-Fi in both the bedrooms and the common areas and attractive restaurant seating 73. Large car park for more than 20 vehicles is guarded 24 hours. 80 kW standby generator.

Sgl 565 birr, dbl/twin 850 birr, triple 1248 birr, MasterCard & VISA accepted with 5% surcharge

Tukul Village Lodge, Internet and shops across street, a newish place with very nice, spacious "tukul" round, native style with thatched roofs and en suite shower rooms with better views from their private balconies than most other hotels in this area.

Restaurant and 20kW standby generator. Sgl 900 birr, dbl/twin 1,250 birr, triple 1,700 birr .

Lalibela Hudad Eco-Retreat (Hudad Lodge). Located on a 10 hectare amba (mesa) at an elevation of 3,300 m, several km from Lalibela.

There is a road part way there; access the rest of the way is by foot or mule. Accommodation is in tukuls spread out over the amba, each with its separate tukul outhouse.

There is no running water. With luck you will spend the evening around a campfire with locals who will sing, dance and give you a traditional leg wash and massage from the knees to the toes. Night temperatures are cool at this elevation, so take extra layers for round the campfire, but there will probably be a sweater provided in your tukul.

The 11 medieval monolithic cave churches of this 13th-century New Jerusalem are situated in a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia near a traditional village with circular-shaped dwellings.

Lalibela is a high place of Ethiopian Christianity, still today a place of pilmigrage and devotion.

In a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia, some 645 km from Addis Ababa, eleven medieval monolithic churches were carved out of rock.

Their building is attributed to King Lalibela who set out to construct in the 12th century a ‘New Jerusalem’, after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the holy Land. Lalibela flourished after the decline of the Aksum Empire.

There are two main groups of churches – to the north of the river Jordan: Biete Medhani Alem (House of the Saviour of the World), Biete Mariam (House of Mary), Biete Maskal (House of the Cross), Biete Denagel (House of Virgins), Biete Golgotha Mikael (House of Golgotha Mikael).
And to the south of the river, Biete Amanuel (House of Emmanuel), Biete Qeddus Mercoreus (House of St. Mercoreos), Biete Abba Libanos (House of Abbot Libanos), Biete Gabriel Raphael (House of Gabriel Raphael), and Biete Lehem (House of Holy Bread).

The eleventh church, Biete Ghiorgis (House of St. George), is isolated from the others, but connected by a system of trenches.

The churches were not constructed in a traditional way but rather were hewn from the living rock of monolithic blocks.

These blocks were further chiselled out, forming doors, windows, columns, various floors, roofs etc.

This gigantic work was further completed with an extensive system of drainage ditches, trenches and ceremonial passages, some with openings to hermit caves and catacombs.

Biete Medhani Alem, with its five aisles, is believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world, while Biete Ghiorgis has a remarkable cruciform plan.

Most were probably used as churches from the outset, but Biete Mercoreos and Biete Gabriel Rafael may formerly have been royal residences. Several of the interiors are decorated with mural paintings.

Near the churches, the village of Lalibela has two storey round houses, constructed of local red stone, and known as the Lasta Tukuls.

These exceptional churches have been the focus of pilgrimage for Coptic Christians since the 12th century.

All the eleven churches represent a unique artistic achievement, in their execution, size and the variety and boldness of their form.

The King of Lalibela set out to build a symbol of the holy land, when pilgrimages to it were rendered impossible by the historical situation.

In the Church of Biet Golgotha, are replicas of the tomb of Christ, and of Adam, and the crib of the Nativity.

The holy city of Lalibela became a substitute for the holy places of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and as such has had considerable influence on Ethiopian Christianity.

The whole of Lalibela offers an exceptional testimony to the medieval and post-medieval civilization of Ethiopia, including, next to the eleven churches, the extensive remains of traditional, two storey circular village houses with interior staircases and thatched roofs.

The drainage ditches were filled up with earth for several centuries, before being cleared in the 20th century, and have been disrupted by seismic activity.

This has resulted in a severe degradation of the monuments from water damage, and most of them are now considered to be in a critical condition.

Structural problems have been identified in Biet Amanuel where an imminent risk of collapse is possible, and other locations need to be monitored. Serious degradation of the paintings inside the churches has occurred over the last thirty years. Sculptures and bas-reliefs such as at the entrance of Biet Mariam have also been severely damaged, and their original features are hardly recognisable. All of this threatens the integrity of the property.

Temporary light-weight shelters have now been installed over some churches and these, while offering protection, impact on visual integrity.

Other threats include encroachment on the environment of the churches by new public and private construction, housing associated with the traditional village adjacent to the property, and from the infrastructure of tourism.

The Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela are still preserved in their natural settings. The association of the rock-hewn churches and the traditional vernacular circular houses, in the surrounding area, still demonstrate evidences of the ancient village layout.

The original function of the site as a pilgrimage place still persists and provides evidence of the continuity of social practices. The intangible heritages associated with church practices are still preserved.

For centuries, the Church and State have been jointly responsible for the holy site of Lalibela. Home to a large community of priests and monks, it is a living site which draws many pilgrims to celebrate the great feasts of the Ethiopian Christian calendar.

This active and energetic perspective is central to the management of the site.

No special legal framework is provided to protect the Rock-Hewn Churches except the general law, Proclamation No. 209/2000, which has also established the institution in charge, the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH).

With the Ethiopian Church as a partner, the ARCCH has a representative in Lalibela but a principle difficulty has been the harmonization of the different projects and effective coordination between the partners.

The property is administered under the regional and the Lasta district culture and tourism office. To prevent the property from the impact of development, a draft proclamation has been prepared but this is not yet ratified.

A management plan has not yet been established. A four year Conservation Plan was established in 2006 but this has yet to be fully implemented.

The boundary for the property has not yet been clearly delineated and a buffer zone has not yet been provided.

There is a need for stronger planning controls for the setting of the churches that address housing, land-use tourism and for a management plan to be developed that integrates the Conservation action plan.

The overall sustainable development of the area, with the involvement of the local population.

Following the decline of the Aksumite Empire, power shifted in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to Roha in Lasta District.
This was renamed for King Lalibela (1181-1221) of the Zagwe Dynasty which ruled in Lalibela for more than a century.

The construction of eleven rock-hewn churches is attributed to King Lalibela.

The buildings are monolithic, carved from a sloping mass of red volcanic scoria underlaid by dark grey basalt and interconnected by a maze of tunnels and passages with openings to hermit caves and catacombs.

Some are of the basilica type, having archaic features and imitating architectural elements from earlier periods, yet they differ in design and style.

Two are decorated with interesting wall paintings and carved figures. The Lalibela churches are included in the World Heritage List; the principal edifices are the Churches of Medhane Alem, Maryam, Ammanuel, Giyorgis and Golgota-Mikaïl.

Erosion due mainly to weathering is damaging the stone surfaces of all the churches, so that restoration is a matter of urgency. Religious objects too, such as a cross, manuscripts and a wooden altar, must at all costs be preserved.

UNESCO and the European Community have organized an international competition to built temporary shelters to protect the monuments from the rains. As soon as it is technically possible, the sites will be restored.
Enterprising local children might ask you to buy schoolbooks and pens for them. Some say don't bother contributing to their education in this way, as they will return the books and keep the money.

Tourism Observer

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