The town of Lalibela was originally known as Roha. It was renamed after the 12th-century King Lalibela, who commissioned these extraordinary churches.
Lalibela was a member of the Zagwe dynasty, which had seized the Ethiopian throne around 1000 AD. When his rivals began to increase in power, Lalibela sought the support of the powerful Ethiopian Orthodox Church by building the churches in this small town. King Lalibela’s goal was to create a New Jerusalem for those who could not make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (and to create a sacred city to rival powerful Axum, with its Ark of the Covenant).
According to some reports, he had been to the Holy Land himself and was inspired by what he saw. But the king made no attempt to copy the churches of the Holy Land; in fact, Lalibela’s sacred architecture could not be more unique. The churches of Lalibela were not constructed — they were excavated. Each church was created by first carving out a wide trench on all four sides of the rock, then painstakingly chiseling out the interior. The largest church is 40 feet high, and the labor required to complete such a task with only hammers and chisels is astounding. Popular legend has it that angels came every night to pick up where the workmen had left off. One of the churches, Bet Maryam, contains a stone pillar on which King Lalibela wrote the secrets of the buildings’ construction. It is covered with old cloths and only the priests may look on it. King Lalibela’s project for gaining the church’s favor had two unexpected results: the creation of a holy place of unparalleled beauty and the king’s conversion to a religious life. After laboring for 20 years, he abdicated his throne to become a hermit, living in a cave and eating only roots and vegetables. To this day, Ethiopian Christians regard King Lalibela as one of their greatest saints. The churches have been in continuous use since they were built in the 12th century. The first Europeans to see these extraordinary holy sites were Portugese explorers in the 1520s, one of whom noted in his journal that the sights were so fantastic, he expected readers of his descriptions would accuse him of lying. ( Fransico Alvarez ).
We prepared you a hiking plan to Lalibela and the mountains surrounding Lalibela.
Day 01: Addis Abab-Lalibela (2500m) In the morning, fly to Lalibela. The rest of the day, visit the first group of rock-hewn churches from 1200 AD. O/N: hotel.
Day 02: Lalibela –Merebarbu (3500m) In the morning visit the second group of rock-hewn churches. In the afternoon, trek to Merebarbu enroute visitng Asheten Mariam monastery church from the 13th century. O/N: camping at Merebarbu.
Day 03: Merebarbu-Wedebye (3700m) Start the 4 hours trekking from Merebarbu to Wedebye (3600 to 3800). O/N: Camping at Wedebye .
Day 04: Wedebye-Abune Yosef (3900m) Continue the trek for ~4 hours to Abune Yosef (4130). En route enjoying the stunning view covered by afro alpine types of vegetations you will have the chance to spot endemic mammals like Gelada Baboon and Simen Fox. O/N: Camping at Abune Yosef.
Day 05: Abune Yosef-Degosach-Yimrhane Kirstos From Abune Yosef, the third highest pick in the Ethiopia, we will trek on the plateaus of Degosach en route visiting different villages. At Yimrhane Kirstos, you will visit the 12th Century built up cave church which is very famous for its unique style of architecture, construction and interior decorations. O/N: camping at Yimrha.
Day 06: Yimrha-Arbatu Ensesa-Lalibela In the morning, walk down hill to visit Arbatu Ensesa, a rock-hewn church from the 4th century AD. At the same point, meet your driver for the drive to Lalibela en-route visiting Bilbala Cherkos. O/N: Roha hotel.