Steeped in history and ancient Christianity the iconic monolithic rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are an architectural wonder. Situated in the mountainous region in northern Ethiopia are eleven churches that have been meticulously carved out of rock, some from the top down like subterranean monoliths, and others chiseled into cliff faces.
The most iconic and visually stunning of the churches is Bet Giyorgis. The 15-meter high structure is carved out of rock, excavated externally and internally into the shape of a Greek cross. It is worth visiting Bet Giyorgis several times, once in the early morning to witness mass being carried out, and once at sunset.
Scholars date the churches back to King Lalibela’s reign (1181-1221) and today it is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, attracting pilgrims of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith. It was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978.
The most exciting time to visit Lalibela is during one of the annual festivals. Spending a night vigil during one of the big religious festivals like Ledet (Ethiopian Christmas) or Timkat (Epiphany), watching hundreds of white-robed pilgrims proceed in and out of the churches is a remarkable sight.