Lalibela is a beautiful place. Driving in to town from the airport is a winding, uphill drive giving glimpses of the town and nearby mountains. We saw many people walking the steep hills into town, this because it was market day. I have forgotten to mention in previous posts that there are always animals on the roads – goats, cattle, chickens, etc. This is especially true when people are travelling to the market. Usually the animals are free to roam willy nilly along the road and many times we all gasped and clenched our eyes shut because we thought our taxi was going to hit one. Luckily this was never the case. On our drive to Lalibela, many people had their goats on leashes, like dogs. I’m guessing because it is a narrow road up a hill, there isn’t much room for the goats to roam and it’s safer to keep them tethered. We didn’t see leashes being used anywhere else.
What makes Lalibela so special and why people visit this small town in the middle of the mountains are it’s rock-hewn churches. 11 sacred buildings have not been built, but excavated out of the ground. This amazing feat was commissioned by King Lalibela in the 13th century – mere hammers and chisels created these remarkable buildings. We spent the entire day roaming from church to church, which are all connected by tunnels and walkways with openings to catacombs and hermit caves.
The churches were just as fascinating inside. They were often decorated with richly coloured curtains and rugs, and the stillness and quiet inside evoked a sacred atmosphere.
The churches’ roofs are level with the ground, with trenches cleared out around each one and the buildings themselves carved from what was left. The large canvas-like structure pictured below is a cover for protecting the building from the elements.
The churches are all still in use today and each one has its own dedicated priest.
As we’d encountered at the mausoleum in Addis, we had to take off our shoes when entering each of the churches. I tied and untied my laces a lot that day! Sandals would be a better choice if it weren’t for the precarious footing in some of the pathways and descents down to the churches.
Arguably the most impressive of the 11 churches is St George’s. It has been carved into the shape of a Greek-style cross and over time has developed a vibrant yellow lichen. We arrived in the later afternoon, just before closing time, and with the rolling countryside in the background, it was a breathtaking sight.
The walk back to our hotel from visiting the churches was a long walk uphill after a whole day of walking. Also, at an altitude of 2630m (8628 ft), we weren’t free of the effects of altitude and were easily out of breath after a couple steps. But the walk back was interesting in itself. We got to see more of the town, including many traditional-style homes like the one pictured below.
As well, we picked up a ragtag gang of young boys who surrounded us and wanted to chat. We each got to talking to a different kid, but as it turns out, they were all telling us the same tale. They were all in school and knew all the capitals in the world – I was very impressed that someone actually knew that Ottawa (where we’re from) was the capital of Canada, let alone a young boy. It’s a common misconception that Toronto is the capital – all you non-Canadians remember that and impress the next Canadian you meet! 🙂 But I digress. Each one was from the countryside but wanted very much to go to school to be a veterinarian, and upon completing would return to the countryside and take care of the peoples’ farm animals. The point of the story was that they didn’t have enough money to buy books for school and wanted us to buy them books. We all extricated ourselves from the conversations at that point, reaching our hotel by then.
As usual, there are a bunch more photos on SmugMug should you care to look at them.
Next in our whirlwind tour, we headed back to Addis Ababa for a pit-stop before heading on to Nairobi, Kenya. Not having many photos of that, I’ll be able to post on that sooner rather than later 🙂 but bare with me as I go through the hundreds of photos from our safari!