Bet Giorgis church, Lalibela © Judith Duk
Lalibela is one of the world's most remarkable spiritual sites, home to Ethiopia's astounding rock-hewn churches and an important pilgrimage site for Ethiopia's Orthodox Christians. There are 13 churches in total, all carved from a single piece of granite, and all in current use. The churches were carved from the top down and some lie nearly hidden in deep trenches, while others stand in open caves. Each is unique. The churches are connected by a labyrinth of tunnels and dark narrow passageways with crypts, grottos, caverns and galleries hewn from the red rock. They were carved between the 10th and 12th centuries in a bid to create a New Jerusalem for those unable to pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The small town of Lalibela is fairly rudimental, but there is an airport, some tourist accommodation, and good restaurants. The atmosphere of Lalibela can be described as biblical, a quiet, mystical place, with a cool, moist climate, that never fails to astound its growing number of visitors. It should be noted that Lalibela and its churches are not tourist attractions, but places for worship and contemplation: tourists should be respectful when visiting and taking photographs. Having said that, the local people are friendly and welcome visitors, and it is difficult to imagine people being disrespectful of this awe-inspiring place, which is deservedly Ethiopia's greatest tourist attraction.