Monday, October 24, 2011

The churches of Lalibela

As I have mentioned before, Ethiopia is the second ever country to declare itself christian - this has resulted in a very rich cultural and architectural heritage, the most famous of which are the church complexes at Lalibela.
Lalibela is an ancient town situated on an incredibly beautiful hill side between the lowlands and high plateaus of northern Ethiopia. It is named after the king of Ethiopia, Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, who had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and according to the local historians, decided to build up the city as a "second Jerusalem", possibly following the fall of the real Jerusalem to the Muslims in 1187. Indeed, all the place names and church names reflect ancient Jerusalem locations - even the river that runs through the town is named "the river Jordan".

There are 13 churches in total, arranged in 4 separate complexes. The church complexes are mind-boggling - the churches were made by starting from one gigantic piece of rock, and built by carving the church out, meaning each church is just one continuous piece of rock. In some instances, they started from the side of the rock and carved the church by digging into the rock horizontally, kind of like in Petra, jordan. In other instances the church was built "in reverse" by starting from the flat top of the rock and digging down, and these are truly the most impressive feats of the ancient builders.

A few pictures :

UNESCO recently built the cover, and although visually disastrous, it is necessary to protect  this church, the oldest one in the complex

It's difficult to overstate the skill of the ancient rock carvers

Each church has a well thought-out drainage system to avoid erosion at the base

Here you can see the "mother rock" from which the church was carved

This inside is no less impressive

Only one of the churches has elaborate internal carvings and paintings

The Saint George church, the most well-recognized and also the most recent church in Lalibela - still dates from the early 12th century though!

Although I did spot a few "pool houses" in town as we walked through, I had no time to actually play any as our ays were packed with exploring the churches and the myriad passageways, tunnels and ridges linking them...

No comments:

Post a Comment