Posted by: Alex MacGregor | April 4, 2010

The Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela

Our first destination in Ethiopia outside of Addis was also the most famous–the town of Lalibela.

The town is located in the beautiful northern highlands, at an elevation of about 8,000′. The setting of the city is especially beautiful, deep in the northern highlands.

In addition to the great setting, we found the town itself to be pleasant and quaint.

But it’s not the town itself that is the major tourist draw. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the king of the region decided to build a dozen churches–by carving them out of the solid-rock ground. The result is a collection of churches not only fascinating for their unique construction, made of a single rock attached to the Earth’s surface, but also for the mysterious traditions and long history surrounding the complex, whıch was designed to be a ‘New Jerusalem’.

The scale of the churches is shocking!

The inside of the church, completely carved out of the stone.

Central to the brand of Christianity practiced in Ethiopia is chanting–hour upon hour of tireless chanting.

The churches are linked together through a network of underground tunnels and corridors, wıth all sorts of side-chambers and tombs and things along the way.

Everyone has to take off their shoes…tourists and locals alike!

Each of the churches has its own type of cross.

This last church is by far the most famous of the bunch! This is the church of St. George, carved out of the stone surface into the shape of a cross.

The church is meant to symbolize Noah’s Ark, as the bottom set of windows are all closed and only the top ones are open, signifyıng the flood.

A painting of St. George found inside the chruch. St. George is renown in Ethiopia for slaying a dragon–an feat in which he is always depicted. You don’t have to look farther than Ethiopia’s most popular beer to see just how big a deal this is!


  1. St. George is obviously the best.

    Also, whoever took the picture of the monk guy holding the cross, that looks like it could be in National Geographic or something.

  2. The beer is good, but I still think the best thing is the Super Obmama Strawberry Gum.

  3. Absolutley amazing! I had no idea that any of this existed- the world has just expanded for me!!

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