Lalibela’s churches of pink volcanic rock are an eighth wonder of the world. And the exhilarating climate and views, around F&R Lodge, the finest in the land. Our town’s reclusive isolation and small size combine with the best lodgings outside Ethiopia’s capital. And have visitors returning. Yet much of the rural population of the highlands are poor, and living like their ancestors. Yemrehanna Kristos is worth a trip by trek, or jeep, from Lalibela. Asheton ‘Mariam’ monastery, and origin of many holy books, lies higher in altitude, at roughly 4000 meters. Asheton translates to ‘aroma’ in Amharic because King Neakutoleas, King Lalibela’s nephew, burned frankincense when building St. Mary’s Church, so visiting monks could find it. Further on, a trek to Degosach, and the 11,000′ level of Abune Yosef, will also inspire visitors.
Lalibela is undoubtedly Ethiopia’s famous town. Popularity however hasn’t eliminated poverty and witnessed in the vicinity. As younger women and occasionally children are seen going about daily tasks under heavy work-loads. Activities reflecting strong contrast with the standards of developed countries where visitors are from. And, though sanitation and cleanliness outside our guesthouse may look threadbare, our comforts are a refuge.
Roha, the former name of Lalibela, was founded by King Gebre Mesquel Lalibela of the Zagwe dynasty more than 900 years ago, when intending to construct a new Jerusalem. Today a supreme ecclesiastical centre of Ethiopian Orthodoxy, and major pilgrimage site. Where pious believers walk hundreds of kilometers barefoot for religious blessings. Although Lalibela’s church exteriors and interiors are composed of local volcanic tufa, the architecture’s exceptionally diverse. Forming isolated monoliths within deep pits, or hewn out of the cliff-face. Most operating churches with daily services. Academically, disputes are ongoing in relation to church construction. And durations of erection. Ethiopian Orthodox tradition claiming edifice construction was miraculously intervened. The legends recounting how angels had replaced day-labourers during night periods, to accomplish the feat.
The oldest hewn buildings were not originally churches, but became churches by the 11th or 12th centuries. The structures having similarity to those of Axum, in northern Ethiopia, flourishing 800 years before it. The complex later extended. Some designs are compared to the Tomb of Adam, and Church of Golgotha, and buildings of the original Jerusalem. Lalibela’s waterway of Yordanos in the local dialect translates to ‘Jordan’. Debre Zeit (a hill in Lalibela) with ‘Mount of Olives’ in Jerusalem.
No doubt King Lalibela who gave the latter town its title was rebuilding Jerusalem. Around the historical sacking of Lalibela’s counterpart by the Muslim king Saladin. All remaining for Ethiopia’s highly-remembered monarch being a cloth-draped feature in the Church of Golgotha. An unlikely monument for one of Ethiopia’s pivotal kings.
Note: Guides in Ethiopia are licensed in various ways depending on the area. Rock-hewn church-guides in Lalibela are licensed only for the local churches and monuments. Federally licensed tour-guides are licensed to operate in other parts of Ethiopia