Originally constructed as a New Jerusalem after the capture by Muslims, names of several places in Lalibela still carry the name of places in the Holy Land after King Lalibela spent some time in Jerusalem. The world famous rock-hewn churches are divided in three groups, the northern and the southern cluster separated by a small stream called the Jordan river. After you buy or show your tickets at the entrance, you soon descend in the underworld of Lalibela. The churches have all been carved out of the rocky surface, and once you are down, you are in a totally different world, without any connection to the present. Just by going down, you step back centuries. Singing comes out of the church, so I walk around the outside of the church, awe-struck by the magnitude of the building. Centuries ago, King Lalibela and his helpers (angels, according to traditional legend) dug deep trenches in the rock here, and subsequently carved out this enormous church. Bet Methane Alem is also home to the Lalibela Cross.
After walking around this largest monolithic rock-hewn church in the world, the guide motions that I can follow him. Inside, the church gives the impression of a cathedral, with a high ceiling, pillars, with graves carved in the floor. Even though simple in design, the church amazes by its size. From here, a short tunnel leads to Bet Maryam, probably the oldest church in town. It is a smaller, more elaborate monolithic church. Outside, a small pool covered with floating plants in which infertile women are dipped during Ethiopian Christmas, and in the rock walls contain two small chapels. Bet Maryam itself is one of the finest decorated churches in Lalibela, carvings in the ceiling, the walls and the columns. One of its pillars covered in a veil - under it, there supposedly are inscriptions with the Ten Commandments in Greek and Ge'ez, as well as the secret of how the churches in Lalibela were excavated. Priests insist that the pillar glowed for centuries, and that lifting the veil is too dangerous. While this is bad news for researchers, it further adds to the mystery surrouding the Lalibela churches.
After the marvels of Bet Maryam and the chapels of Bet Meskel and Bet Danaghel, a short walk through tunnels and deep trenches takes you to Bet Mikael and Bet Golgotha. Outside, you can see finely carved windows, inside you will find darker churches with low ceilings. Bet Golgotha has seven reliefs of saints carved life-size into its walls, with some sparse daylight falling through the tiny windows. One of the many legends surrounding the churches in Lalibela holds that King Lalibela himself has a grave in Bet Golgotha. These churches, a little further away from the larger ones of this group, offer a more peaceful experience with less people around.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Lalibela Northern Cluster (Ethiopia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Lalibela Northern Cluster. Read more about this site.