Churches Rock!

Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Ethiopia  ,
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lalibela, Ethiopia. Lalibela is an incredible site and sight. The valley itself is quite small, and with the exception of one or two paved roads, most of the lanes are rocky, treacherous paths, unlit at night, and crowed with shack-like houses. The natural setting is beautiful, perched at 2600 metres above sea level, looking out on the hills in the distance, with a large mountain looming behind the town.

The churches of Lalibela deserve to be placed on the same mantle as Petra in Jordan. In some ways, they are even a greater marvel. Petra is amazing. It's location and history are fascinating. However, the architectural marvels of Petra, like the Treasury, are facades with the main part of the buildings simply dug out of the rock in cave like interiors. The churches of Lalibela are different. They were carved of solid rock, inside and out, from the top down, straight into the earth. A number are free standing monoliths, attached to the ground as if they had somehow grown from the rock under them. Not only the churches were carved out, but all of the surrounding space; the courtyards, the passageways, the rooms and pillars inside. All of these were carefully, exquisitely carved from solid rock. When you think about it, really think about it, it is a truly astonishing feat. And this was done about 800 years ago.

I had only two nights and a day in Lalibela. It seems sad to have spent almost twice as much time simply getting there and back than at the actual place. This is the nature of travel, at least non-air travel, in Ethiopia. My guide in Lalibela (actually worth it, this is a site that begs to have a good, well learned guide) was Gatanew, a slightly odd, but delightful guy. His knowledge was expansive, and I appreciated the churches all the more for hearing the history and legend behind them. If you (dear reader), ever come to Ethiopia (and I highly recommend you do), Lalibela is a must. Yes, it's a hassle getting here. Yes, you will get hassled by everyone wanting to be your guide. But, it is worth all of it.
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