A walk through ancient Lalibela

Lalibela’s 900-year old rock-hewn churches have been built in two distinct groupings, one group in the north and the other in the east. You can visit both in a single day, but it is probably better to give yourself more time to fully absorb the wonder of this place. The churches are connected by a series of ancient passageways and alleys, which are atmospheric places to wander.

Priest, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Priest, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Ancient passageway, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Ancient passageway, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
A man prays outside a rock-hewn church, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
A man prays outside a rock-hewn church, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa

The history of Lalibela is palpable. Everywhere you look there are stone corridors and staircases rubbed smooth by the passage of pilgrims over centuries of devoted worship. Buildings are carved with simple, early Christian symbols, and turning a corner can bring you face-to-face with a group of worshippers, in a scene which could have been witnessed at any time over the last 900 years.

Countryside surrounding Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Countryside surrounding Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Traditional houses, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Traditional houses, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Traditional houses, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Traditional houses, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa

A visit to the churches is both full of surprise and a little disorienting. In true Indian Jones style, the churches of Bete Medhane Alem and Beta Maryam are linked by a tunnel, carved several feet underground out of solid rock. You can’t but admire the enormous effort which has gone into building this New Jerusalem.

Priest sits by a doorway, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Priest sits by a doorway, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Tunnel connecting churches, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Tunnel connecting churches, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Passageway, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Passageway, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Priest with Ethiopian Orthodox cross, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Priest with Ethiopian Orthodox cross, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Religious paintings on a door, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Religious paintings on a door, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa

Set amidst beautiful rolling countryside, this mountainous region provides the perfect backdrop to such an ancient and mysterious town. Yet, despite all the history, Lalibela remains a small and relaxed place largely off the beaten track. Tourism has made an impact here, but remains low key and largely unobtrusive…for how long remains to be seen.

Traditional houses, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Traditional houses, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Rock-hewn church, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Rock-hewn church, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Priest with Ethiopian Orthodox cross, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa
Priest with Ethiopian Orthodox cross, Lalibela, Ethiopia, Africa

9 thoughts on “A walk through ancient Lalibela

  1. As always, your images convey a great deal.

  2. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  3. Rosa de los Vientos November 4, 2013 — 9:32 am

    It feels so ancient. Great.

    1. There’s nearly a thousand years of human history in those rocks. Its a fabulous place.

  4. Very interesting, thanks for sharing. MM 🍀

    1. Thanks Mick, its a fascinating place.

      1. Ethiopa has a lot of appeal, including the different tribes. MM 🍀

  5. Your portrait of the priest reading is stunning, beautiful light, expression, and exposure. This looks to be a fascinating trip, I’m really enjoying my arm chair journey to a part of the world I had never considered visiting. Your photos and comments have been so much more informative than the three minute mention in an art history class that was making a vague effort to cover more than dead white men. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

    1. Thanks Cheech, that’s much appreciated. Its a beautiful country and with such a wealth of history, art and culture. If you ever get the chance to visit, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

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