Lalibela is among the important historical sites in Ethiopia today, along with Aksum, with the ruins of ancient cities with obelisk, tombs, castles and our lady Mary of Zion church; and Gondar, with the now-ruined castle of King Fasilidas and the bathing pool of Queen of Sheba.

Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, second only to Aksum and a centre of pilgrimage. Unlike Aksum, however, today almost the entire population of Lalibela is Ethiopian Orthodox Christian.

In the 12th century, King Gebre Meskel Lalibela of the Zagwe dynasty converted to Christianity. King Lalibela ruled the town of Roha from 1181–1221 AD and established the Christian foundation of the town, building churches, and creating a symbolic representation of Jerusalem – with Golgotha, Gethsemane and the River Jordan. It is said that he did this to save his subjects the long, arduous and dangerous journey to Palestine, declaring that a pilgrimage to Lalibela was as good as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Ethiopian Christians regard King Lalibela as one of their greatest saints. He abdicated his throne after ruling for many years and became a hermit, living in a cave and surviving on roots and vegetables.

The churches of Lalibela are excavated not constructed. Every church was created by first digging a wide trench on all four sides of the rock, then painstakingly chiselling out the interior with just hammers and chisels (for details see

Lalibela churches have been in continuous use for the last 900 years. Services and festivals in the Lalibela churches continue to be celebrated even today, with the most elaborate celebration being the festivities of Meskel (the Finding of the True Cross), around mid-September of each year.

Lalibela is located in the North Wollo Zone of the Amhara Regional State in Ethiopia, roughly 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) above sea level. See