Lalibella, the site of 11 spectacular rock- hewn churches is an
important historical attraction in Ethiopia. King Lalibella (r.1180 -
1221) was one of the kings of the Zagwe Dynasty which flourished after
the fall of the Axumite Empire in the 10th century A.D. According to
some sources king Lalibella constructed the churches in an attempt to
create the second Jerusalem at the heart of Ethiopia.
The area on which the churches are found covers about two square kilometers. The churches were excavated in the red volcanic stuff of mount Abuna Joseph in massive rectangular blocks. Out of these blokes the craftsmen chiseled the ceilings and walls 30 to 50 feet high, floors on varying levels, individual rooms, windows, columns and arches. They surrounded the churches with an extensive system of drainage ditches.
The eleven churches differ widely form each other, yet have certain typical features in common in their magnificent architecture. They are all basilica inform. There is no piece of wood in all of the construction. The columns which divide the nave and aisles, the altars, the windows the relief and paintings exhibit the fantastic skill of the masons and sculptors.
The rock- hewn churches of Lalibella have long been one of the most constant source of fascination of all the wonders which Ethiopia offers to world. They are one of world's most incredible man made creations, and lasting monuments to man's faith in God. A Portuguese priest, Francisco Alvarez, who visited the churches in 1520 wrote as follows, "It wearied me to write more of these works, because it seems to me that they will not believe me if I write more, and because as to what I have already written they will accuse me of untruth. Therefore, I swear by God, in whose power I am, that all that is written is the truth and there is much more than I have already written, and I have left it that they may not tax with its being false hood." Even today many tourists say the same thing with Alvarez about the Lalibella churches but using different words.
For visitors who are interested to have a look of more rock- hewn churches the surrounding of Lalibella and Tigray offer many more. Some are situated in inaccessible places so that travel to visit them can be managed by walk, mule and even rope.