Lalibela rock-hewn churches

Lalibela 2,600m (8,500ft) is a rural town of 15,000 people on a stunning escarpment in the eastern highlands of northern Ethiopia. It is famous for rock-cut architecture churches hewn from living rock, most built more than 900 years ago. They were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978.

King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela wanted to create a “new Jerusalem” in Africa. The layout and names of the major buildings are accepted by the local clergy to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem. The town’s river is known as the River Jordan.

Of the 11 churches, St George’s is considered the masterpiece.

photo by Victor Watt
photo by Victor Watt


I was pleased to finally see the churches, yet wasn’t blown away.

In fact, my most memorable highlight of Lalibela is a weird restaurant.

The churches are sometimes compared with Jordan’s Petra. Sometimes with the amazing Kailasa temple at Ellora in India. Lalibela is more impressive.

Nobody likes the ultramodern protective roofs added a few years ago to most of the 11 churches.


Cost of entry is $50, high most agree. I hired a guide ($40 for 6 hours over 2 days). That’s not mandatory, but recommended. Guides at Lalibela are not all that great, I found.


They go through the motions without much passion. A priest in training at the attached museum was excellent, however.

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Rick Mc

Career gymnastics coach who loves the outdoors, and the internet.

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