Uncovering the Rock Churches of Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia
Nine hundred years ago, workers set out to construct a new holy city in the northern highlands of Ethiopia. Instead of building from the ground up, they began chiseling down into the red volcanic rock. Believed to be built with the assistance of angels working through the night, the 11 rock-hewn churches of Lalibela were carved into giant blocks of sandstone and connected through a series of tunnels, ceremonial passageways, drainage ditches and caves.
Today, Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s most holy cities and carries the nickname of “New Jerusalem.” It has been a pilgrimage site for Christians for centuries and continues to be a destination for worship and daily devotion for the priests, monks and orthodox Christians who comprise the town’s population. Tourists from around the world now also trek to Lalibela to marvel at its stunning architectural accomplishments. Though all of the original churches are still in active use, many of the structures are considered to be in critical condition as a result of water damage and seismic activity. UNESCO declared Lalibela a world-heritage site in 1978 and has organized support to restore the monuments. A number of the churches are now protected under temporary light-weight shelters.