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The town of Lalibela in North Ethiopia is home to one of the world’s most astounding sacred sites: eleven rock-hewn churches, each carved entirely out of a single block of granite with its roof at ground level. These were built during the reign of Lalibela, king of Ethiopia. It is here where high in the chilly mountains of Wollo stands these complex dozen rock-hewn churches often and justifiably ranked as the eighth wonder of the ancient world. Reachable only on foot or by mule until a couple of decades back, but now serviced by daily buses and flights, these churches stand as an inspirational active shrine to a Christian civilization that pre-dates its northern European equivalent by centuries. And last but not least, it is worth noting that it was in 1978 that Lalibela became one of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ethiopia.
The ten cluster churches located in Lalibela town are categorized into three group sets.
The Northern Group: Bet Medhane Alem, home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world, probably a copy of St Mary of Zion in Aksum. It is linked to Bet Maryam (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 Western Group: Bet Giyorgis, a cross-shaped church entirely carved out of a giant rock, said to be the most finely executed and best preserved church. This is the most prominently featured church on the Lalibela postcards.
The Eastern Group: 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. The best way to access this group is to enter via Bet Gabriel-Rufael, then via a dark trench next to the church you will access Bet Merkorios, Amanuel and Abba Libanos.
Around Lalibela also lie several more ecclesiastic gems: the beautiful Axumite cave church of Yemrehanna Kristos, the isolated monasteries and churches around Bilbilla, the remote mountain retreat of Asheten Maryam … all set amid some of the most fantastic mountain scenery on the African continent.
Religious ritual being central to the life of residents of Lalibela, it is estimated that of the current 30,000-35,000 inhabitants of Lalibela, roughly 1,200 are said to be serving priests with regular processions, extensive fasts combined with the extraordinary religious architecture and simplicity of life. Such combinations give the city of Lalibela a distinctively timeless, almost biblical atmosphere…Click the link Word Heritage List to read more.
Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela
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