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The Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela

The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are the most impressive sight in all of Ethiopia and it would be fair to say, one of the more impressive sights in the world. Indeed, many argue, were these churches not in relatively unknown Ethiopia, they would be counted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.


Unfortunately, none of my photographs even begin to portray how impressive these buildings are. In addition to some technical problems I experienced, it is almost impossible to photograph these buildings because, well, you are in the middle of rock, with almost no light and with very little space between you and the rock. So I will need to depend more on "tell" than "show" in describing these churches.


- the complex contains 12 churches, all carved out of rock, as negative impressions.

- they are carved BELOW ground level in mountainous terrain.

- compared to Petra, Jordan which is largely just an exterior engraving, the churches of Lalibela are three dimensional, with large interior rooms.

- these churches are still in use today, as they have been for the past 800 years. Priests, hermits and pilgrims all visit and use the churches for worship.

- four of the churches are monolithic, meaning that they are one seamless piece of rock, totally free standing from the surrounding rock, attached to the mother rock only at the base.

- the design of the church complex is well engineered with every church having access to an artesian water source.

- this style of construction is uniquely Ethiopian and there are approximately 300 rock hewn churches in northern Ethiopia, some dating to the 6th or 7th century.

- Lalibela is a UNESCO World Heritage site and many feel that it deserves to be one of the Wonders of the World.


Think for a moment, what it must have been like 800 years ago to cart off all the pieces of rock that were chiseled away in creating the spaces around the outside of the churches and the interior of each building. It is thought that 40,000 workers must have been needed to complete the work.


Lalibela, Ethiopia


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Uploaded on April 27, 2012