the small town lalibela is located in the northern part of ethiopia and can only be reached via non-asphalt roads. yet it is very famous, because of its exceptional and absolutely unique monolithic rock-cut churches - they were declared world-heritage sites in 1978. lalibela is also one of ethiopia's holiest cities, second only to aksum, and the target of intense pilgrimage.
from about 1150 to about 1270 the zagwe dynasty was ruling in lalibela and made it the capital of ethiopia. the most important king was gebre mesqel lalibela (reigning 1181–1221). after visiting jerusalem, he was the principal behind erecting 11 rock-cut churches.
the first one shown below is a precursor, situated north of lalibela, the yemrehanna kristos church from the 12th century, built inside a cave on the commission of a zagwe king.
all rock 'basilicas' are cut out of a rock in one piece. the church inside contains colums, and the walls are decorated with both architectural features and often paintings.
the windows, real or fictive ones, are designed in many specific shapes, all symbolizing christian perspectives.
some contain sculptures of historic priests. the current priests present christian symbols, as well as old examples of bibles, written in the original ethiopian language. this is also found in old tombstones.