Culture, Africa

'Jerusalem of Ethiopia' hosts ancient rock-cut churches

Lalibela Churches, carved out of rock, are historic marvel

'Jerusalem of Ethiopia' hosts ancient rock-cut churches

By Tufan Aktas

LALIBELA , Ethiopia 

Ethiopia is home to 12th century churches which were carved out of rock.

The rock-hewn Lalibela Churches are a wonder for onlookers and a historic marvel.

Belay Habetamu, pope of the Golgotha church, one of the 11 rock-hewn churches, said they were built on the orders of Jesus Christ, giving the region the name "Jerusalem of Ethiopia".

King Gebre Meskel Lalibela wanted to build a second "Jerusalem" in Lalibela, a town in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia, on the grounds that the road to Jerusalem was not safe.

“Jesus spoke to King Lalibela,” he said, "ordering him to build churches by carving rocks."

They were built underground for protection from enemies and legend says the construction was overseen by angels who descended upon earth.

Abiy Tesfakiros, a guide at the site for 10 years, said the construction of the three-storey church was inspired by the Noah's arc.

In 1978, they were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The churches, a place where Coptic Christians regularly worship and come for pilgrimage, are thronged by tourists year-round.

Sarah Polin, a tourist from Germany, said: "I have never seen such work in my life. It is surprising that these structures were built centuries ago.”

Lalibela is one of the most important reflections of Christianity which was introduced to the region in the fourth century.

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