This strange, isolated town in the mountains of Lasta is famed for its rock-hewn churches. The name is derived from its most famous ruler of the Zagwe Dynasty King Lalibela of the 12 th-century. Lalibela is a strikingly singular town. The setting alone is glorious. Perched at an altitude of 2630 meters, amongst wild craggy mountains and vast rocky escarpments. The design of houses in Lalibela is unique in Ethiopia, two storey circular stone constructions that huddle over the steep slopes on which the town is built. Even if you have seen other rock-hewn churches in Ethiopia nothing will prepare you for Gondar's.
The churches are big with many of them exceeding heights of ten meters. Because they are carved below ground level they are ringed by trenches and courtyards, the sides of which are cut into with stony graves, hermit cells and connected to each other by a tangled maze of tunnels and passages. In size and scope, the church complex feels like a subterranean village. Yet, each individual church is unique and minutely decorated. Only one word describes Lalibela - awesome. The churches of Lalibela are concentrated into two main clusters separated by the Jordan River. The western sector contains 5 churches while the eastern sector has 7 in total. There were two main methods of construction. The churches in the eastern cluster have been built be being excavated mostly from below the ground and are surrounded by courtyards and trenches so that they mimic normal buildings. This is a style unique to Ethiopia. In the western sector they are mostly excavated from the vertical rock face by exploiting caves and cracks in the rock. In the eastern cluster is Bet Medhane Alem which is the largest monolithic rock hewn church in the world. It measures 11.5 meters in height and covers an area of 800 sq.meters. There are many other churches in and around Lalibela all dating back hundreds of centuries.