Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rock-Hewn Churches, Ethiopia

If you’re planning to travel to Africa, you might consider visiting the Ethiopian city of Lalibela, where you can find the only rock-hewn monolithic churches in the world. Built between the 12th and 13th century, the town of Lalibela was meant to be the new Jerusalem, after the Holy City fell to the Muslims, in 1181.

Ethiopia is one of the least visited countries in Africa but most fascinating of all the top African destinations. Any land that has thirteen months in each year, a clock that starts at six in the morning and an utterly unique alphabet deserves your attention!” seize the opportunity to visit this magical African destination before the crowds.
Not many countries in Africa and indeed the world are so full of surprises as Ethiopia. Ethiopia is rich in history and culturally diverse than most countries in Africa.

To the South and west of Ethiopia lies the Great Rift Valley, where some of Africa’s most remarkable tribal groups. North and east Ethiopia holds spectacular trekking through the Simien Mountains’ canyons, cliffs and folds. Also in this area you find the famous Lalibela’s beautiful rock-hewn churches – Africa’s equivalents to Jordan’s Petra. Ethiopia has it all: the Ark of the Covenant’s resting place, coffee’s home and earth’s oldest archaeological sites. Only foolish do not rush in. 

The term "monolithic church" is most often used to refer to the complex of 11 churches in Lalibela, Ethiopia, believed to have been created in the 12th century. The most famous of them is the cross-shaped Church of St. George (Beta Giyorgis). Tradition credits its construction to King Lalibela, who was a devout Christian. The medieval monolithic churches of this 12th-century 'New Jerusalem' are situated in a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia near a traditional village. Lalibela is an important center of Ethiopian Christianity, and even today is a place of pilgrimage and devotion. Lalibela is one of the world's precious heritages registered by UNESCO.

 Many other churches were hewn from rock in Ethiopia, outside of Lalibela. This practice was very common in Tigray, where the outside world knew of only a few such churches until the Catholic priest Abba Tewelde Medhin Josief presented a paper to the Third International Conference of Ethiopian Studies in which he announced the existence of over 120 churches, 90 of which were still in use.
Despite Dr. Josief's death soon after his presentation, research over the next few years raised the total number of these rock-hewn churches to 153
 The 13 churches are either carved in vertical cliffs, in natural caves or right into the ground and separated by trenches. They were all hand-carved by the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and the technical details are studying material even for modern architects
The churches of Lalibela are all connected through tunnels and the trench system transports the water to the nearby River Jordan. Anyone who knows the heavy rains that fall in Ethiopia, can appreciate this evacuation system.
All the religious structures of Lalibela are named after buildings in Jerusalem.

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