Lalibela /Roha/ is the site of Lalibela Rock Hewn Churches. King Lalibela is responsible for the foundation of these world famous rock hewn churches in Lalibela /Roha/ town. King Lalibela was from Zagwe Dynasty, the Dynasty that came to power after the collapsing down of Axumite Dynasty. It is miraculous to see the typical Axumite architecture and early Christian basilica on these rock hewn churches in addition to its own art and aesthetic value. All the churches were chiseled and carved from red tuff volcanic rock. In general, there are 11 rock-hewn churches in three groups in Lalibela town which all of them were chiseled and carved within 23 years in 12th century A.D. Many Ethiopian Christians consider Lalibela as the Second Jerusalem because of the holiness of the place. However, UNESCO as world heritage site registered it; unofficially scholars recognize it as one of the wonders in the world. Because of his wonderful deed later on, Ethiopian Orthodox canonized King Lalibela as Saint.
The first group of churches
Bet Medhane Alem (House of the Redeemer of the World)
It is the largest of all rock-hewn churches of Lalebela. It measures 33.7 m in length, 23.7 m in width and 11.5 m in height. The first impression of this church is the saddle-backed roof with frieze of round arches in relief along the vertical edge of the roof.The interior part consists of basilica characteristics, windows for directing light, gallery, the tomb of the three fathers (Abreham, Isaac and Jacob). Afro Ayegaba cross (Lalibela cross) made of Gold 7 kg in weight from 12th century is found here.
Bet Mariam (the house of St. Mary) – This church is known for its decorated frescoes, paintings on the walls, pillars, and ceiling. The pillar on which words of God (Alpha and Omega) are written and covered with white cloth is found here. It has also a gallery with seven windows. Its courtyard consists of fertility pool, baptism pool and Christmas celebration also takes place here.
Bet Meskel (the house of Cross) – it is small semi-monolithic church north of Bet Mariam. The bronze made of processional cross and the old “manber” (an alter on which a ‘tabot’ is put) are visited inside the church.
Bet Danagil (the house of Virgins) – It is semi-monolithic church located south of Bet Mariam. This church lacks any decoration. However, the bronze made processional cross makes worth to visit.
The twin churches of Bet Debre Sina and Golgotha with Selassie Chapel
The first church to be visited is a semi-monolithic Debre Sina church. The cruciform pillars with the relief of Greek crosses are the first impression of the church. North of it is Bet Golgotha. On the interior walls of Bet Golgotha, a priest depicts twelve saints in relief as twelve apostles. The tomb of King Lalibela, the representations of Bethlehem and Nazreth, the processional cross of Lalibela made of three materials (Gold, Silver and Iron) are found in Bet Golgotha.
The Selassie Chapel (Trinity) is on the east side of Bet Golgotha. It is not allowed for anybody to enter.
The tomb of Adam – It is a huge square block of stone stands on western face of Bet Golgotha to symbolize the tomb of Adam.
The second group of churches
These churches are separated from the first group of churches by excavated Jordan River.
Bet Gabriel- Raphael (the house of Archangels) –the western façade gives good impression to this church. Down in the courtyard there is a well and an underground cistern. Its plan and orientation is completely different from the rest of the churches. But the golden and bronze two processional crosses, the parchment, and the two old small boxes are the main artifacts to see.
Bet Mercurios (the house of Mercurios) – In spite of its simple plan and orientation, a fine mural on the pillar, the paintings on the cotton fabrics and the beautifully designed processional cross are worth to visit.
Bet Lehem (the chapel of Bethlehem) – It is found before Bet Mercurios just at the gate of the dark tunnel that leads to Bet Mercurios. According to priests from Lalibela churches Bet Lehem was used for the bakery of the eucharitic bread.
Bet Emanuel (the house of Emanuel) – It is the finest and most impressive rock hewn church. It is also noted for the typical Axumite architecture and true basilica plan. Inside the church from the right side, there is closed tunnel that used to take to Bet Merkurios. A wooden and bronze processional crosses can be shown to visitors.
Bet Aba Libanose (the house of Aba Libanose) – It is a typical rock hewn church. Legend states that this church was chiseled, carved and finished within 24 hours. After visiting the interior part of the church and two small processional crosses, it is possible to go around the exterior church to appreciate how the walls are detached and the roof is still connected with mother rock.
Bet Ghiorgis (the house of St. George) is isolated church from both the first group and second group of churches. It is the most stylish, graceful, and refined in architecture, and cruciform church. The first impression starts from small hill where it is most spectacular scenery is seen towards three crosses on top. The narrow long tunnel leads to its courtyard. The twelve upper functional windows with ogee-arches and the decorated cross-are the exterior beauty of the church. Inside the church the two processional crosses, the royal box from 12th century and the parchment are visited.
Churches outside Lalibela
Yemerehana Krestos Cave Church – It is located 42 kms from Lalibela. It is a built up cave church founded in 11/12th century by King later on Saint Yemerehan Krestos. It is built on water body.Under a cave there are skeletons of many people, that is said by priests it is the sekeletons of the pilgrimage from Egypt. At the back of the church, the tomb of Saint Yemerehana Krestos is found. The church is a work of great elegance and consists of those of Axumite architecture. The interior church has pillars and arches, well elaborate nave ceiling, aisle ceiling with different patterns and paintings with depiction of animals like elephant and lion, a dome over sanctuary.
The highest mountain in the area, Mt. Yoseph (4190 m.) can be seen before 6 kms from Yemerehana Krestos.
Bilbala Giorgis – 32 kms from Lalibela. It is only the façade that is visible but the rest are still connected with mother rock.
Bilbala Cherqos – 30 kms from Lalibela. It is semi-monolithic church. The paintings inside the church are nice to visit.
Arbatu Ensessa (the four beasts of animals) – 36 kms from Lalibela on the way to Yemerehan Krestos.The Axumite architecture on the pillars and windows are good to visit.
Makina Medhane Alem – It is a cave church. The Axumite style and the rich paintings, motifs are appreciated.
Gennata Mariam – about 30 kms from Lalibela. It is a true monolithic rock hewn church near Lalibela.
King Fasilides established the historical Gondar as the capital of Ethiopian in 1636. King Fasilides (1632-1667) diverted the temporary capital city that was established by his father, Emperor Susynos, in Gorgora. He chose Gondar because the area is free of malaria, good for defensive purpose and good climatic condition. Gondar used as the capital city of Ethiopia up to 1855 until Emperor Teodros diverted the capital. Gondar is noted for its wonderful castles on the continent Africa, arts, paintings and architecture.
The Castles Compound
The castles compound (Royal enclosure) of the emperors of the first Gondarine period lies on 70000 square metre and is surrounded by twelve gates basalt wall. Historically, the first castles were built by Portuguese in Gorgora (the castle of Emperor Susynos 17th c.) and Guzera Castle (the castle of Emperor Sarsa Dengil 16th c.). However, the castles in Gondar were built by Ethiopians except Portuguese design influence.
King Fasilides Castle (1632-1667) – a three sections (two stories) castle with square plan (25 m X 25m) and 32 m height. It is the most magnificent and elegant castle of Gondar. The Archive Castle – King Fasil built it for collection of documents. Yohannes Castle (1667-1682) – It is characterized as ‘love castle’ and built by Emperor Yohannes, the son of King Fasil. Emperor Iyasu I (1682-1706) – it is ‘saddle castle’. Iyasu is the son of Emperor Yohannes. Traditionally it is said this castle is as fine as the palace of King Solomon of Jerusalem. It was decorated with Vatican mirrors, gold leaf, precious materials and paintings. Unluckily, these decorations partially can not be seen because of earthquake in 1704 and the British Force bombardment to expel out the Italian Forces during the World War II.
David II (1716-1721) – his castle is known as the ‘house of song.’ Because festival ceremonies with music was held here.
On the western side of Emperor David castle, there is lion’s cage. The last lion died in 1992.
Bakaffa (1721-1730) – It is large reception hall. Horses’ stables stand in front of it.
Empress Mentuab and Iyasu II (1730-1755) – it is the great two stories palace with Ethiopian crosses decoration on the western wall in referring to Axumite, Lalibela and Gondar crosses.
In general, the castles compound also consists of other buildings like the Turkish style bath, and churches.
Churches of Gondar
There were 44 churches in Gondar. Churches of Gondar are known for their wonderful Gondariane paintings. Debre Berhan Selassie and Kusquam are the most visited churches in Gondar.
Debre Berhan Selassie Church
It is literally translated as ‘Trinity at the mount of light’. It was constructed during the reign of Iyasu I. It is noticeable for high-fortified wall with tower all around. This church is unique in both mural and ceiling paintings. It is the only church in Ethiopia to have painting on the ceiling with faces of angles in all directions. The biblical theories scene on the four walls with typical Gondarian painting is unbelievable.
Kusquam is found at the outskirt of Gondar. Empress Mentuab built both the church and castle here. The church dedicates to St. Mary. Mahdists destroyed the original church in 19th century. The new one is also worth to visit. The skeletal remains of Empress Mentuab, Emperor Iyasu II, and her grand son Iyoas are found underground inside the church.
The impressive banquet hall castle with outer wall cross relief is very interesting to visit. THe Empress also built Separate Castle for bedrooms. According to local people stroy, there is a room inside this castle where the 17th Century schotish traveler James Bruce stayed for five years.
The Bath of King Fasilides
The 50 m X 30 m and 2.5 m deep, in the center of which stands the two-storied square castle is known as the bath of King Fasilides is now using as the site of Ethiopian epiphany celebration.
Bahir Dar ‘sea shore’ in Amharic) is a city in North Western Ethiopia 565 kms from Addis Ababa, 174 kms from Gondar in the heartland of Amhara society. Bahir Dar is one of the leading tourist destinations in Ethiopia with a variety of attractions in the nearby Lake Tana and Blue Nile River. The city is considered as one of the most beautiful, well planned, and safest cities by many standards, and in 2002 it was awarded UNESCO Cities for peace prize for managing to address the challenges of rapid urbanization. It is situated on the Southern shore of Lake Tana. The Jesuits started the seedbed for establishment of Bahir Dar in 16th century. Bahir Dar is the base to visit monasteries and churches on the islands of Lake Tana, and Blue Nile River.
Attractions to be visited in Bahir dar:-
Lake Tana and Blue Nile River
Blue Nile River
Blue Nile Water Fall
The monasteries and churches
Ura Kidane Meheret
Mehal Zeghe Giorgis and Betre Mariam
Debre Sina Church
Sof Umar Cave, one of the world’s biggest, Africa’s largest cave, and marvelous underground world is located 120 kms from Goba town. It is formed by Web River, which rises from Bale Mountain. The beauty of the cave comes from the untouched and savage aspects of the huge main passages, shape of the sections of the galleries, the white color of the lime stones, the great number of entrances, and bewitching noise of the river. The 42 internal entrances and its total passages distance of 16 km, its 1.7 kms tourist line, which crosses the river seven times and takes about an hour walking. Sof Umar cave is a reputed historical Islamic heritage attributed to Sheikh Safiyyullah Umar (Sof Umar). The Sheikh is said to be the nephew as well as the disciple of Sheikh Husein. He lived, worshiped Allah in the cave, and taught Islam to his followers many centuries ago. Sof Umar is also noted for forest birds, which attracts many Ornithologists. The endemic bird, Salvador serin is localized here.
It is the site of the Shrine of Sheikh Husein. It is 178 kms from Robe town. The shrine is named after an ancient Muslim holy man (religious leader) called Sheikh Nur Hussein who is reputed for his religious teachings, high devotion and remarkable miraculous deeds in 11th century A.D. The main attractions of the site include:
The impressive white colored and conic shaped ‘Qubbaa’s (doves of tombs/mosques) are seen in the site.
There are over ten monuments among which the oldest one is the qubba Of the Sheikh’s parents. The Sheikh’s qubba, the biggest of all, is separately fenced by stout wall around an area of more than 10000 m2.
The visit to the Dire made twice a year by thousands of pilgrims. The days are counted according to the Islamic calendar Hikirah.