Introduction to Lalibela
In the heart of Ethiopia, amid postcard-perfect mountainside scenery, rests the sacred town of Lalibela. Roha, as it was originally called, was the capital of the Zagwe dynasty for around 300 years. The town was renamed “Lalibela”, in honor of its monarch, who was responsible for the building of the 11 monolithic churches at the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th centuries. He named it New Jerusalem. The catalyst for building this sacred place was the Muslim conquests, which halted pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Lalibela flourished after the decline of the Aksumite empire.
The site is acknowledged as being one of the Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There are two main clusters of churches, separated by the aptly-named Yordanos or „Jordan“ River. The eleventh (and most visually impressive) church, Bete Giorgis, lies away from the others and can only be accessed via a tunnel.
Each church has its own unique style, but all are carved out of the bedrock. In some intances trenches were excavatated to isolate a solid granite block. Once isolated, these monolithic blocks were chiseled downwards, inch by inch, creating windows, doors, arches, passages and drainage ditches. Some even have openings to catacombs and hermit caves. Other churches were carved into the cliff face and in the instance of Bete Denaghel, the church was carved partially to incorporate an existing cave.
Where most of the Lalibela churches served as places of worhip from the outset, it is believed that two – Bete Gabriel Rafael and Bete Mercurios, were originally built to serve as royal dwellings.
Aside from the awe-inspiring churches of Lalibela, the town is attractive, charming and friendly. Two-story rondavels – Lasta Tukuls, constructed from the local red earth, dot the tranquil countryside. Time appears to stand still here, with locals going about their daily business, seemingly unaware of the rat race that is happening in other parts of the world. To this day Lalibela is regarded a place of pilgrimage and devotion, playing an important part in the religious activity of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Recommended length of stay: 2-3 Nights
(1-2 nights exploring the churches & architecture + coffee ceremony)
Extra day for hike with mules up to Asheton Maryam
Getting There: Domestic flights daily to and from Addis and other major towns
Major Religion: Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity
UNESCO World Heritage Site
When in Lalibela
11 churches in the town are named after the King.
There are two season: dry season from October to May and rainy season from mid of June to mid of September.
When entering the churches, the clothes have to be “respectful”, covering enough of the body. Shoes must always be removed before entering churches and mosques
When in Lalibela
Where to say
Set in a 16-acre countryside estate, east of the town of Lalibela, eco-friendly Mezena Lodge & Spa is truly a haven-within-a-haven of nature and tranquility. The top-notch accommodation comprises 30 stylish, spacious bungalows, all with private verandas that offer views of the idyllic scenery. Facilities include free Wi-Fi, an all-day-dining restaurant, bar, curio shop and spa (sauna & steam room), conference centre and swimming pool. With the Lalibela Airport only 30-minutes’ drive away, Mezena Lodge & Spa is very conveniently located.
Maribela, which means “Lalibela” in Amharic, is located in the hills of Lalibela. Inspired by the legacy of King Lalibela, the facilities at Maribela are designed to offer guests royal treatment. The rooms are spacious and modern, with stylish ensuite bathrooms, and you can look forward to all the modern conveniences of a luxury hotel. These include free Wi-Fi, same day laundry service and around-the-clock housekeeping and front desk service. Designed for ultimate relaxation, you can soak up the exquisite view from the day bed on your private balcony. The restaurant menu offers traditional local fare as well as a selection of continental dishes.