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Published: October 25th 2018
The rock hewn churches of Lalibela are considered to be Ethiopia’s number one tourist attraction. They are also on a suitable circuit for us to travel in the relatively short time we have here. Most tourists choose to fly to Lalibela from Addis Ababa as by bus it takes a day and a half. We decide, of course, to go by bus.
Lalibela is not much of a town, but for some that’s part of the appeal. The churches are tourist sights but they are also places of active local worship and it you are here at the right time you witness some extraordinary gatherings. Though these are Christian churches, it’s also Orthodox Christianity and is a very different style of worship to what we in the western world are used to. On one of the nights we are here there is an all night vigil so we do get the opportunity to witness some of the local rituals and they are quite intriguing.
He churches themselves are – for me – the main interest, but to be honest even they are a bit disappointing. The construction technique is very interesting – the churches are man-made caves, but the
but the end results less so. They are also not improved by ugly UNESCO roofs constructed about 10 years ago in order to protect the churches from erosion. The local community seems unhappy about these roofs but seems powerless to have them removed. I’m not convinced they are that effective.
There are about 12 separate churches here with a variety of styles, but all constructed around the same time in the 12th
century. Though the entrance fee (an eye watering 50 dollars) is valid for 5 days you can easily see all the sights, though we choose to split this over 2 days. You can hire a guide but we can’t really see the point (apart from the possible benefit of helping some local people) of doing so.
The St George church we leave until last and it is the standout and most photogenic sight. If you have seen pictures of Lalibela then the St George church is probably what you are thinking of.
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