Rock-hewn churches of Lalibela

Lalibela is an exceptional place located at 2600 metres high up inthe mountains of South Wolo. The mountains rise to over 4000 metres in the ridge of Abuna Josef high above the town. Lalibela would be a beautiful place to visit, even if there were no rock churches. But it is of course the world renowned rock churches that all visitors come to see. 

The origins of  of  the rock hewn  churches in Ethiopia are  dated to the 6th century by the Nine Saints. This rock-church tradition is associated with the birth and burial places of Jesus Christ, which were a cave in Bethlehem and carved rock in Gologotha, respectively. In addition to this symbolic importance, churches are thought to have hewn from rock  built frocks perhaps for their physical durability and longevity.


Although the tradition of rock-hewn church excavation was started earlier in 6th century, it reached at its high level of development during  Zagwe Dynasty, particularly during the reign of King Lalibela in the 12th century. The famous rock-hewn churches of Laiblea are best examples.

There are eleven rock hewn churches in Lalibela, situated in three groups separated by the seasonal river Jordan.

Churches of the first group are believed to have been built first and are usually visited first by many of the tourists. They are Bete Medhane-Alem, Bete Mariam, Bete Meskel, Bete Denagel, Bete Golgotha and Bete Debre Sina. Churches of the second group are situated south of the Jordan River and comprise Bete Gabriel, Bete Amanuel, Bete Merkorios, and Bete Abba Libanos. In the third group, there is only one isolated church i.e Bete Giorgis. It is located a few minutes walk to the south west of both the first and second group of churches.

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