Lalibela Rock-Hewn Churches

Lalibela Rock-Hewn Churches, North Wollo Amhara Region, September 1978

Lalibela is designated as world Heritage site in 1978. After the decline of the Axumite state, a new Christian dynasty emerged in the 12th century. This Zagwe dynasty made its capital in Roha, some 400 of kilo meters south of Axum.

According to a legendary account, King Lalibela was born in Roha. His name means 'the bee recognises its sovereignty'. God ordered him to build 10 monolithic churches, and gave him detailed instructions as to their construction and even their colours. When his brother Harbay abdicated, time had come for Lalibela to fulfill this command. Construction work began and is said to have been carried out with remarkable speed, which is scarcely surprising, for, according to legend, angels joined the labourers by day and in the night did double the amount of work which the men had done during the hours of daylight.

The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are in fact no more than exceptionally fine examples of a long-established Ethiopian building tradition. Monolithic churches are to be found all over the north and the centre of the country. Some of the oldest of such churches are to be found in Tigray, where some are believed to date from around the sixth or seventh centuries.