Friday, September 21, 2012

Different Tourist Attractions: Church of St. George – Lalibela, Ethiopia

Among the different tourist attractions in the world the Church of St. George in Lalibela, Ethiopia, is arguably one of the most famous ones. Tourists travelling to the country have made it a point to visit it making it one of the country’s most visited sites. As a matter of fact it can be considered to be one of the great places to visit in Africa.

Church of St. George - Lalibela, Ethiopia
Location: 12°02′N 39°02′E

What is it?

Lalibela is a town in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia. It is home to a collection of 11 monolithic rock-hewn churches. The churches were created in the 12th century by King Lalibela who lent his name to the town.

While the Church of St. George (Bete-Giorgis) in Lalibela, Ethiopia is the most famous of these churches (for being the most finely hewn and the best preserved of the 11 churches), the one that holds the record for being the largest monolithic church in the world and also the home of The Lalibela Cross is the Church of Savior (Bete Medhane Alem). 

The Lalibela Cross
This cross is considered to be one of Ethiopia’s most religious and historical heirlooms. Thought to be made by King Lalibela himself in the 12 century, it is 60 centimeters tall, weighs about 7kilograms and is made of gold. It was stolen in 1997, sold by a dealer in Addis Ababa for $25,000, located in Belgium in 1999 and returned to Ethiopia in 2001. The Bete Medhane Alem is quite often called the “Eighth Wonder of The World”.


During the reign of King Lalibela the town now named after him was known as Roha.  He is thought to have reigned from 1181 to 1221. His name means “the bees recognize his sovereignty” – after his mother saw that a swarm of bees surrounded him when he was born, and his mother took it as a sign that he would one day reign as Emperor of Ethiopia.

The now world-famous Ethiopian rock-hewn churches believed to have been built either during King Lalibela’s rule or were commissioned by him. Legend has it that the king had a vision of the Jerusalem in Israel and was instructed by angels to build a similar new Jerusalem for those that couldn’t make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

In all there are 13 churches in Lalibela (the total number of Ethiopian rock-hewn churches is 153, but none of these are nearly as famous or grandiose as the ones built by King Lalibela). Their names are:

Bete Medhane Alem: Home to the Lailebela Cross and the world’s largest monolithic church.
Bete Maryam: Thought to be the oldest of the churches.
Bete Gologotha: famous for its art and being the place where King Lalibela’s tomb is located.
Bete Giorgis: the most beautiful and best preserved of all the churches.
Bete Amanuel: thought to have been a royal chapel.
Bete Merkorios: thought to have been a former prison.
Bete Gabriel-Rufael: thought to have been a former royal palace.
Bete Abba Libanos
Bete Meskal
Bete Denagel
Bete Lehem

Amazing Facts

The hoof prints of St. George's horse
Photo from: Katie Prescott
The churches were excavated rather than built. A wide trench was dug out on all four sides of the rock. The rock itself was then painstakingly chiseled to create the interior out of it. The structures have doors, windows, columns, multiple floors and roofs. Around them drainage ditches, trenches, baptism ponds, ceremonial passages and hermit caves and catacombs were also dug out.

There is a legend that angels came out at night and helped the workers by picking up where the workers had left off. Another legend has it that in one of the churches, Bete Maryam, there is a stone pillar on which the king himself wrote the secrets of the churches’ construction – it is covered by cloth and only priests are allowed to see it. And, finally, there is also a legend that the hoof prints of St. George’s horse can be seen from when he came down to visit the king.

Ethiopia’s Lalibela churches are not only places of pilgrimage and devotion today, they are one of the main reasons tourists travel to Ethiopia and Africa and Lalibela is also one of the world’s most precious heritages registered by UNESCO.


  1. Interesting monument. Nice article

  2. Thank you, Sakin. Lalibela is one of many amazing places in Ethiopia. I will be writing about the others in subsequent posts. Thank you for visiting and I hope you come back to read about the others too.

  3. Ethiopia is home to several interesting sites that are amazing and one of a kind.

  4. Ethiopia has a lot more to offer in terms of tourist attractions. I think It would be a brilliant idea If I bring with me my grandparents to Ethiopia after they visit new york retirement communities .

  5. Interesting and informative sharing! The Lalibela is the historical town in Ethiopia. This town is the famous for monolithic rock-cut churches. This town is covered many historical things for this country. Your blog is very useful for everyone especially for me. I’m tourist and like to visit in historical places all over the world. I visit in this town before new york to orlando bus tour with my business partner. After reading your blog I must again visit in this town and see the all historical thing in Lalibela.

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  7. Ethiopia is a country with one of the richest histories on Africa.It is the land of contrast and surprise.It is the land of fables of queen of sheba and the arc of covenant.It has diversified language with different ethnics.It is also the land of origin and 13 months come and visit.

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