Thursday, September 20, 2012
Holes in the Ground are Different in Lalibela, Ethiopia
Well, that's something you don't see everyday. The picture above is from Lalibela, Ethiopia. What you see is not just a statue of a cross carved in the rock in the ground. That's a church, and the people around it are awaiting their Sunday morning services. That's right. It's a church, carved in the ground 800 years ago, by a monastic society that was trying to survive oppression. Ethiopia is largely Christian in a hugely Islamic arena, and sticking to their guns was difficult during certain eras in history. The idea of hiding the church in the ground and carving it from rock was to hide and make a permanent institution.
There are eleven churches carved in the mountainside in Lalibela. It's quite humbling to be in the area and see the magnificence of these churches. They've been referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, and can only be compared to the city of Petra in Jordan. The most amazing thing about these churches that have been standing in these holes for the last 1,200 years or so, is that they are still in use. In a world of Islam, the Ethiopians are still primarily Christian and they still have services in these churches.
The detail is amazing. Just imagine, these places were carved by hand out of the rock where it stands. This building used to be a solid piece of stone.
Now, the village of Lalibela was named after King Lalibela, who was the person who started having the churches carved. Asheten Mariam is the most remote of the churches and was carved by King Lalibela's nephew. Bete Medhane Alem, Bete Mariam, Bete Meskel, Bete Emanuel, Bete Rafael, Gabriel, Bete Mercury and Aba Libanos are several of the churches that you will want to see. Bete Giorgis is the one with the cross on top and probably the most photographed of all the churches is a must see.
The interior of the churches do not look like caves, as one might expect. They are ornate and posh, to say the least. When you are inside, you would never think that you are standing in a carved out building in a hole in the ground in Africa. It's an amazing place to be.
I mean, this is how you get there. It's like a hike through a state park gorge in New York. The contrast is phenomenal. The experience is truly biblical. The people are amazing. The only catch with this one is that it's remote. The best way to go there is to contact a tour company. Most tours fly their customers in and out of the area, and most tours will spend a few days in Lalibela in order to see all of the churches.
One of the advantages of going on a tour is that they think of things that no one else does, because they are familiar with the area. There are many amazing things to see in Ethiopia. There are ancient stone masterpiece bridges.
There's the beautiful countryside. Ethiopia is famous for having some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Africa.
And one of my favorite parts of any trip is to experience the culture.
But, there is one thing that Ethiopia has that no one else on Earth does. It has Axum. Axum was the capital of the great Axumite Empire which lasted until around the first century BCE. It's also still home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.
This building is the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum. This is one of the better views that you'll see of it in a picture. This is one of the holiest sites in Christendom according to millions of believers around the world. It is reported that the Arc of the Covenant is housed here. The place is surrounded by security, and no one is allowed inside except the one high priest who holds the job of guarding it. Is it really in there? I don't know. Is it worth a trip to Axum to check it out? Yes. Will you get inside the church to see it? No way on Earth, baby. Take a picture and cherish the fact that you got that close.
So, Axum will most likely be on your tour that you take to go and see the churches of Lalibela. Sit back and enjoy the thing that you never thought you would go to see. Enjoy a country full of traditional people, religious traditions, and I hear, great food. Go and see the beautiful, the amazing, the unforgettable Ethiopia and the churches of Lalibela.