Not only did the famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela display the feats of engineering in carving out structures from one piece of solid rock, they showed the prowess of architectural craftsmanship in using simple hand tools like hammers and chisels. The task of designing, locating, and then carving these rock-hewn churches seemed monumental – they were not just monasteries, they were works of art.
(Left) A monolithic rock-hewn church, carved entirely from a single rock (the columns were renovated later to maintain the structural integrity of the building) (Right) A sample of some of the fine interior carving seen in the churches
(Left) Another expertly crafted monolithic church and (right) a 12th Century wooden church door or the start of an episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”
A series of semi-monolithic churches, as indicated by one or more walls/ceilings being connected to the exterior rock
Our favorite of the monasteries was the Church of Saint George. This was the main reason I wanted so badly to go to Lalibela, let alone Ethiopia. After seeing so many pictures and footage of the Church on travel channels, I finally got to feast my eyes on the real thing, and it was completely worth the trip.
The Church of St. George was the last of King Lalibela's projects, so it was the most ornate and advanced. The aspect that set it apart from the other churches was the shape of the structure. When viewed from the top it is a perfectly symmetrical cross, and surrounding the whole structure is the square stone pit that the church was cut into. Another unique feature is its changing color that has aged over time. Unlike the other churches which are covered with scaffolding, St. George's is uncovered and an orange-colored lichen has been growing on the high exterior walls and in the crevices of the window designs. The bold colors accent the church even more and it gives it a sense of character and elegance. The inside of the church is also very captivating with its high vaulted ceilings and columns. It was beautiful and both Steve and I were in awe of its architectural prowess.
Several views of the final and most well-known of King Lalibela’s works – the Church of Saint George
(Left) All aboard the mule express to the Asheton Monestary and (Right) watch your step on those steep slopes, donkeys!
A truly ancient religious book of over 600 years, colored with animal blood and the inks of various flowers
Breathtaking views from the top of the Asheton Monastery