Lalibela

Sunday 17 November 2019

Back to the airport, this time for a domestic flight – to Lalibela.

My flight was at 11.40am, and of course I arrived at 9.30am which was far too early! The domestic terminal was nothing more than one large room.

It was just a short 30 minute flight, across mountains and canyons, to lalibela.

Lalibela is a world heritage site. I had never heard of it before I started looking into travelling in Ethiopia. It is famous for its rock churches. Build below ground level, into the rock and date back to around 1180.

I was picked up at the airport. And it was a 30 minute scenic drive to the town. 45,000 people live in the town – houses scattered across the mountains. And amazing views all around.

Houses are mostly made out of eucalyptus wood and mud. Quite different!

I’m staying at a guesthouse and my room has an amazing view over the valley.

Time for lunch. And my first Ethiopian food! I ordered ‘fasting food’, which is always vegan. Lots of different vegetables and lentil curry on an injera – which is a ferment tef pancake. All so good. The injera tastes like a lemon pancake.

Then at 3pm, off to explore some churches!

The churches are split into several groups. Today we were going to the northwestern group – called Bete Medhane Alem. And the entrance fee is rather expensive – $50 covers all the churches in town.

These churches have been carved from ground level downwards. Complete with supporting columns (although some here have been restored) and decorative windows in the shape of various different types of crosses. These are 800 years old – which is rather insane.

The first we went to is the largest rock church in the world, being 33.5m by 23.5m and 11.5m high.

They are all still used as real churches. Today being Sunday, the original lalibela cross was out for viewing – apparently weighing 7kg and made of solid gold. The priest was holding it for anyone who wanted to see it – or be blessed by it.

The next church was through a tunnel – they are all interconnected. And inside was elaborately carved and painted. The original paintings still fully visible on the walls. And some original paintings on canvas. Even the wooden door is around 850 years old. Madness.

It was really cool. A mixture of Jerusalem and Petra.

Next up – the most famous, Bet Giyorgis (the church of St George) a completely symmetrical 15m high structure in the shape of a Greek cross.

There was a pathway down the side of the rock, which lead to a tunnel, to the bottom of the church. Around the edge were holes in the rock where bodies had been left and mummified. They are around 600 years old. Apparently people will come and touch them and eat some of the flesh for good luck.

Inside the church was quite plain, not ornate like the other ones had been.

Then it was 5pm and the churches were closing. So I headed back in a tuk tuk to my hotel!

I headed out at sunset to go for dinner. A weird shaped restaurant on the side of the mountain with views all across both valleys.

I had another injera wat. And it was huge. So many different lentil curries and vegetables. It completely defeated me. But it was really delicious.

Monday 18 November 2018

Breakfast with a view over the valley. Nothing on the menu was vegan, but they made me a kind of pancake thing – it was good!

Then off for a drive through the mountains and villages up a mountain, to a monastery called Ashetan Maryam, which is thought to be King Lalibela’s first attempt at church construction.

We couldn’t drive the whole way. The last half hour was a hike. At 3,000m. Over rocks. And slippery dusty ground. I was suitably dressed in a dress and flip flops…. hadn’t realised today was such a trek!

It was a nice walk – amazing views over the valley and farmland. We could see all the way back towards the airport and all the rock churches in the town.

Inside the monastery was a priest who was showing off the treasures. Several books which were 800 years old – pages made from painted animal skins. And a bronze cross, of a similar age. Crazy that they are just kept inside the church and handled everyday.

The trip up the mountain took most of the morning. But we did manage a quick trip back to the St George church (the cross in the ground) for some mid day sun photos!

For lunch I headed back to the same restaurant that I had dinner at last night. There didn’t seem to be many other places this end of town. The restaurant I wanted to go to (literally someone’s from room) was a bit far down the other side of town.

I had Shiro (a chickpea and lentil thick soup) with injera (the fermented tef pancake which comes with every meal).

Then at 2pm, when the churches were reopened, back out again! This time to the Southeastern Group of Churches.

First up, Bet Gabriel-Rufael – which outside has a sloping wall known as the stairway to heaven. This one was not originally a church, but though to be the house of king lalibela. But is now used as a church.

Then through a 35m pitch-black tunnel, climbing up through several other tunnels, we arrived at another church!

One of the churches had a cotton fabric painting, dating from the 16th century.

The last church was Bet Abba Libanos, which has similarities to the Petra monastery. Pink rock. Carved exterior and still attached to the main rock at the top. There is a legend that this one was built by Lalibela’s wife (Meskel Kebra) with help from angels in 24 hours…

Then after a bit of a walk, back to the hotel for sunset.

I had dinner at the hotel – fasting food again. An injera topped with vegetables and shiro.

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