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Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela

Were it not for these extraordinary churches, Lalibela would almost certainly be well off the tourist radar. A dusty rural town nestled into rolling countryside, Lalibela only recently received electricity. It has few motorized vehicles, no gas stations and no paved streets. Isolated from the modern world, the town goes about its business much as it has for several hundred years.

Lalibela which was originally known as Roha, was renamed after the 12th-century King Lalibela, who commissioned these extraordinary churches.

The churches of Lalibela were not constructed - they were excavated. Each church was created by first carving out a wide trench on all four sides of the rock, then painstakingly chiseling out the interior. The largest church is 12 meter high, and the labor required to complete such a task with only hammers and chisels is astounding.

Popular legend has it that angels came every night to pick up where the workmen had left off. One of the churches, Bet Maryam, contains a stone pillar on which King Lalibela wrote the secrets of the buildings' construction. It is covered with old cloths and only the priests may look on it.

The roofs of the churches, the interior pillars and the interconnection of by tunnels and walkways will definitely lend you a hand to experience a life time memory. Memory that will never fade as time passes by.

The rock-cut churches are simply but beautifully carved with such features as fragile-looking windows, moldings of various shapes and sizes, different forms of crosses, swastikas (an Eastern religious motif) and even Islamic traceries. Several churches also have wall paintings.

There are 11 rock-cut churches at Lalibela, the most spectacular of which is Bet Giorgis (St. George's). Located on the western side of the cluster of churches, it is cut 12 meter down and its roof forms the shape of a Greek cross. It is a magnificent culmination of Lalibela’s plans to build a New Jerusalem, with its perfect dimensions and geometrical precision.

Unlike some of the other churches, St. George’s is plain inside. A curtain shields the Holy of Holies, and in front of it usually stands a priest displaying books and paintings to visitors. In the shadows of one of the arms of the cruciform church is its Tabot, or copy of the Ark of the Covenant. One explorer was allowed to open it and found it empty. No one was able to tell him what happened to its contents.



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