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Unique Wonders

In the remote, almost inaccessible mountains of Wollo, a near 3,000 metre high town has a unique array of churches that have been cut out of solid rock. Lalibela, after whom the town is named, carved the monolithic churches out of the natural volcanic rock from the outside-in during the 12th century.

The building method used, carving out each of the unique churches below ground, left the 11 main churches separated from the surrounding rock by a trench which is now the courtyard of each of the buildings.

Now a World Heritage Site these monolithic and semi-monolithic churches are complete with carved doors, windows, arches, rooms and interior decoration. The effect is stunningly dramatic. They are the outcome of a major sculpturing exercise.

Ruth Plant, architect, said, "The craftsmen who formed them were as inventive as those who built Europe's medieval cathedrals. The rock-hewn churches were cut from the roof down - they could not afford mistakes. Not one!"

Indeed, the elaborately shaped, intricately designed buildings are a delight to both tourists and archaeologists and a visit here during one of the special religious festivals can only add to the very unique experience that Lalibela offers.

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