Lalibela is a town in northern Ethiopia named after an Ethiopian emperor that is known around the world for its monolithic rock-cut (meaning the churches were carved out entirely from 1 piece of rock!) churches. It is said that the emperor had spent time in Jerusalem as a child and tried to build his own holy city with his 11
(or 10 with one being a double building) rock cut churches which are beyond impressive!
Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, and a center of pilgrimage and was the capital of Ethiopia from the late 12th and 13th century, when the churches were believed to have been “constructed.
Few people know this, but Ethiopia was one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity in the first half of the fourth century, and its historical roots date to the time of the Apostles. The churches themselves date from the seventh to thirteenth centuries. This city is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian.
The first Europeans to see these churches were Portuguese explorers who in the 1520’s visited the site and wrote:
“I am weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not be believed if I write more…I swear by God, in Whose power I am, that all I have written is the truth.”
The Rock-Hewn Churches were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
The churches are also a significant engineering feat, given that they are all associated with water (which fills the wells next to many of the churches), exploiting an artesan geological system that brings the water up to the top of the mountain ridge on which the city rests.
How to get there
You can get buses and mini buses to Lalibela from most of the country, probably not direct. From the capital, Addis Ababa buses leave from Meskel Square around 5:30am with companies such as Selam Bus. Although by public transportation it seems impossible to get there in 1 day from Addis, if you were lucky enough to get a shared taxi/van from Woldia or Dessie you could pull it off. And if you are short on time or want to treat yourself you can always fly there as Ethiopian Airlines flies there.
While this was the most expensive entry I have paid in a very long time, (The entry is a hefty $50 USD), you can use the ticket for 5 days. I went twice to try to get a little bit of money’s worth. And when you see the amazing churches I think you’ll agree they are worth it.
Where to Stay
While I was in Lalibela I stayed at both the Panoramic View Hotel, and the Asheton Hotel and I can recommend both. The Panoramic View Hotel is clearly more upscale and comfortable with amazing views, and organized a good tour to the churches. The Asheton Hotel is more cozy and a famous backpacker guesthouse in a local neighborhood that allowed me to interact with other travelers.
Credit and Additional Information
My accommodation in Lalibela was kindly sponsored by the Panoramic View Hotel and Asheton Hotel, but of course all views are my own.