‘New Jerusalem’ in the Heart of Ethiopia

Published March 14th, 2019 - 08:05 GMT

In a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia, eleven medieval monolithic churches were carved out of rock. Their building is attributed to King Lalibela who set out to construct in the 12th century a ‘New Jerusalem’. With 11 rock-hewn churches, Lalibela is understandably a place of pilgrimage for those in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, the Lalibela churches are unique. They are carved from rock and sit below ground level, surrounded by deep, dry moats, with only their roofs visible.

The courtyards surrounding these extraordinary places of worship are reachable only by staircases and tunnels.

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Ethiopian Orthodox devotees stand between the rock-hewn churches of Saint Gabriel and Saint Raphael in Lalibela, Ethiopia
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

Ethiopian Orthodox devotees stand between the rock-hewn churches of Saint Gabriel and Saint Raphael in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

An Ethiopian Orthodox priest steps out of a room of the rock-hewn church of the House of the Saviour of the World in Lalibela, Ethiopia 
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

An Ethiopian Orthodox priest steps out of a room of the rock-hewn church of the House of the Saviour of the World in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

Ethiopian Orthodox devotees gather near the pillar of a shelter that protects the rock-hewn structure from erosion of the church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia 
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

Ethiopian Orthodox devotees gather near the pillar of a shelter that protects the rock-hewn structure from erosion of the church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

Ethiopian Orthodox devotees sit on a pillar of the shelter that protects from erosion the structure of the rock-hewn church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

Ethiopian Orthodox devotees sit on a pillar of the shelter that protects from erosion the structure of the rock-hewn church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

An Ethiopian Orthodox devotee reads a bible near the pillar of a shelter protecting from erosion the rock-hewn structure of the church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

An Ethiopian Orthodox devotee reads a bible near the pillar of a shelter protecting from erosion the rock-hewn structure of the church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

Ethiopian Orthodox devotees enter inside a tunnel leading to the rock-hewn church of Saint Emmanuel, in Lalibela, Ethiopia 
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

Ethiopian Orthodox devotees enter inside a tunnel leading to the rock-hewn church of Saint Emmanuel, in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

An Ethiopian Orthodox priest Mekonnen Fatne (R) poses near the church of Saint Mary which is covered by a shelter to protect its rock-hewn structure from erosion in Lalibela
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

An Ethiopian Orthodox priest Mekonnen Fatne (R) poses near the church of Saint Mary which is covered by a shelter to protect its rock-hewn structure from erosion in Lalibela EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

An Ethiopian Orthodox artist paints postcards in Lalibela, Ethiopia
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

An Ethiopian Orthodox artist paints postcards in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

Ethiopian Orthodox devotees stand between the rock-hewn churches of Saint Gabriel and Saint Raphael in Lalibela, Ethiopia
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
An Ethiopian Orthodox priest steps out of a room of the rock-hewn church of the House of the Saviour of the World in Lalibela, Ethiopia 
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
Ethiopian Orthodox devotees gather near the pillar of a shelter that protects the rock-hewn structure from erosion of the church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia 
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
Ethiopian Orthodox devotees sit on a pillar of the shelter that protects from erosion the structure of the rock-hewn church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
An Ethiopian Orthodox devotee reads a bible near the pillar of a shelter protecting from erosion the rock-hewn structure of the church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
Ethiopian Orthodox devotees enter inside a tunnel leading to the rock-hewn church of Saint Emmanuel, in Lalibela, Ethiopia 
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
An Ethiopian Orthodox priest Mekonnen Fatne (R) poses near the church of Saint Mary which is covered by a shelter to protect its rock-hewn structure from erosion in Lalibela
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
An Ethiopian Orthodox artist paints postcards in Lalibela, Ethiopia
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
Ethiopian Orthodox devotees stand between the rock-hewn churches of Saint Gabriel and Saint Raphael in Lalibela, Ethiopia
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
Ethiopian Orthodox devotees stand between the rock-hewn churches of Saint Gabriel and Saint Raphael in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
An Ethiopian Orthodox priest steps out of a room of the rock-hewn church of the House of the Saviour of the World in Lalibela, Ethiopia 
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
An Ethiopian Orthodox priest steps out of a room of the rock-hewn church of the House of the Saviour of the World in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
Ethiopian Orthodox devotees gather near the pillar of a shelter that protects the rock-hewn structure from erosion of the church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia 
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
Ethiopian Orthodox devotees gather near the pillar of a shelter that protects the rock-hewn structure from erosion of the church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
Ethiopian Orthodox devotees sit on a pillar of the shelter that protects from erosion the structure of the rock-hewn church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
Ethiopian Orthodox devotees sit on a pillar of the shelter that protects from erosion the structure of the rock-hewn church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
An Ethiopian Orthodox devotee reads a bible near the pillar of a shelter protecting from erosion the rock-hewn structure of the church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
An Ethiopian Orthodox devotee reads a bible near the pillar of a shelter protecting from erosion the rock-hewn structure of the church of Saint Emmanuel in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
Ethiopian Orthodox devotees enter inside a tunnel leading to the rock-hewn church of Saint Emmanuel, in Lalibela, Ethiopia 
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
Ethiopian Orthodox devotees enter inside a tunnel leading to the rock-hewn church of Saint Emmanuel, in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
An Ethiopian Orthodox priest Mekonnen Fatne (R) poses near the church of Saint Mary which is covered by a shelter to protect its rock-hewn structure from erosion in Lalibela
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
An Ethiopian Orthodox priest Mekonnen Fatne (R) poses near the church of Saint Mary which is covered by a shelter to protect its rock-hewn structure from erosion in Lalibela EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
An Ethiopian Orthodox artist paints postcards in Lalibela, Ethiopia
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
An Ethiopian Orthodox artist paints postcards in Lalibela, Ethiopia EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP