The rock hewn churches of Lalibela are THE MUST SEE in Ethiopia. Dive in to history … even more special on Christmas
That's exactly what I wanted to see! That's exactly where I wanted to stand!
That's exactly what I had in mind, when I wanted to go to Ethiopia: the Saint George church in Lalibela!
What a miracle: a church hewn from a sandstone plain, not only carved into a mountain face, but dug out of the rock itself in 3D. What a beauty! Unbelievable aesthetics, an incredible knowledge of wall pressure, statics and architecture – was it really built by angels? Standing here, I am almost ready to believe that it was!
All right, I should stop raving about the 11 churches (probably) built during the reign of King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela 900 years ago. But it’s hard … legend says that all of them were built within 30 years and that was only possible with the help of the angels.
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.
Click on the first picture to view the gallery:
Of course at that time, every good Christian was expected to visit Jerusalem at least once in their lifetime – unfortunately, many never returned from their perilous journey. But the clever king had an idea: if we can't go to Jerusalem, Jerusalem must come to us. So all the churches have a reference to places in the holy land – even the river is called Jordan.
The sight of the churches is more than enough reason to visit this city, but every year in the night of the 6th to 7th of January, the place gets even more spectacular as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over Ethiopia come here to celebrate Christmas, which was (quite handily) also the birthday of King Lalibela.
A visit at this time will catapult the visitor visually into a time long past, as the believers walk around the churches praying, singing, dancing or simply sleeping. All clad in the typical white scarves or - if they are members of the church - in colourful robes.
My advice is to definitely book a local guide to show you around.
There is so much history, and you will appreciate the place if somebody tells you the most interesting facts while you can focus on the beauty of the place. Our guide Hailu did an absolutely fantastic job pushing us through the cramped stone passages, arranging priests for me to take pictures of, leading us safely through hundreds of thousands people and always keeping a smile on his face!
You can watch a short Video here:
I didn't really film - I was too occupied to take pictures of all the beautiful things going on around me, but as I had the drone with me, and as I sometimes pressed the record button on my camera as well, I had a few (very shaky, sorry) clips, that I edited into a short clip. I hope you enjoy watching it …
How to get there:
Ethiopian Airlines flies daily (at least from Frankfurt) directly to Addis Abeba. If you book with them, you get a discount on the inland flights, which you will probably need, as the roads are very bumpy and dusty …
We arranged everything through Lalibela Eco Trekking. Molla Kassaw - the owner - organized our whole trip and everything worked perfectly. We didn't have a single guide, but always different local guides, who showed us their town/hike. That way we got to know a lot of different people, who knew their local attractions best.
We didn't spend much time in the hotel, but we like the Cliff Edge Hotel, which is – as the name suggests – perched on a cliff edge. Our room faced westwards and the balcony was a great spot to admire the countryside in the setting sun.
Another great place is the Ben Abeba Restaurant, which is probably the most funky eating place in Ethiopia. It looks like a spaceship which has landed on the edge of the cliff. The views to the land below are marvelous and even the occasional power cut can't spoil the Shepherd’s Pie – the owner is Scottish …