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Lalibela, Ethiopia

As mentioned previously, I shall allow my last post on the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela to serve as a segue into a discussion of Lalibela itself. And, frankly, I found Lalibela and its environs more interesting than the churches the town is famous for.

A little background:

Lalibela (also known as Lalibala) was the most powerful and most famous of the kings of the Zagwe Dynasty (also known as the Agaw Dynasty) who ruled the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia between the first quarter of the 13th and the last quarter of the fourteenth century from their formidable mountain fortresses of Waas and Lasta, long after Aksum had ceased to be the political center of the State. Lalibela’s baptismal name was Gabra Masqal (The Slave of the Cross) and he was on the throne from 1205 to 1225.

King Lalibela’s fame was so great that the old power center of the dynasty, Aadafa, with its eleven famous churches attributed to his reign later renamed “Lalibela” after him.

Some say Lalibela was intended to be a New Jerusalem in response to the capture of “Old” Jerusalem by Muslims, and many of its historic buildings take their name and layout from buildings in Jerusalem.


With that out of the way… Lalibela is remote even by Ethiopian standards. It is up just below 8,000 feet in elevation and the surrounding mountains make the dirt roads allowing access in to Lalibela very rough. As such, prices for basic goods are elevated and electricity and water can be had for only a few minutes or hours a day and very rarely at the same time. One soon becomes used to utilizing candles for light and buckets of cold water for showers, washing hands, etc.


Arriving at the airport in Lalibela… No ramps or fancy waiting areas here – one just exits the airplane directly onto the runway.

The fights in and out were extremely rough (even by my standards) with the aircraft being absolutely pummeled by turbulence created from the mountains. My Italian did not like it and Joy Ames would really not have liked it:

Arriving at the airport in Lalibela

Upon arriving in Lalibela, one can relax a little after being reassured that capitalism is alive and well even in the most remote corners of our planet:

Coca Cola welcome to Lalibela sign

This is the main street of Lalibela:

Main street Lalibela

There is a construction boom going on in downtown Lalibela now with two separate buildings under construction (Lalibela is not very big):

workers in Lalibela

construction site along main road in Lalibela

I forget the technical term, but the Ethiopians are nuts about tabletop soccer. One can find multiple tables set up along the streets of any Ethiopian town:


Some of the street scenes near the center of town:

street scene arriving in Lalibela

street scene Lalibela

donkeys in Lalibela

street scene in Lalibela

kid posing under tree in Lalibela

street scene of shop in Lalibela

The center of town runs along a ridge and the homes of the residents of Lalibela spill down the sides of the mountain forming the ridge:

huts and homes in Lalibela

homes in Lalibela

huts in Lalibela

donkey with cave behind in Lalibela

hut in Lalibela

huts in Lalibela

The greatest population density may be in the center of town, but there is plenty to see down in the residential districts as well. Plus, there are more goats to be found:

goats going down the road in Lalibela

The light in this picture is horrible, but quite coincidentally I happened to take it just as the guy in the center was starting to tumble down into a bruising somersault after the homemade swing he was on collapsed. Behind him you can see the onlookers reacting with a mix of horror, shock and laughter… Soon it was all laughter (Click twice on the picture in order to enlarge it and see what I’m referring to) :

guy crashing off swing in Lalibela



guys walking through Lalibela

living conditions next to hut in Lalibela

children back in huts in Lalibela

Something that was interesting to me was how Lalibela wrapped around and incorporated pieces of the churches into the modern (relatively speaking) village:


huts in Lalibela

That’s an animal hide being stretched and dried next to the entrance of the home:

hide being stretched next to huts in Lalibela

huts in Lalibela

One of the guards from the churches in front of his home:

guard in front of hut in Lalibela

kids in village of Lalibela

storage hut in Lalibela

One day while wandering through town, I stumbled across this workshop and started taking some pictures:

Lalibela workshop

Noticing my interest, my Italian and I were soon welcomed onto the premises to observe the goings on:

welder in Lalibela

I wonder what OSHA would say about his safety gear?

welder in Lalibela

This is inside the shop itself and these guys are using a saw to carve a cedar log into a workable shape:

woodworking in Lalibela

While in Lalibela, we stayed at The Seven Olives Hotel. It is the oldest hotel in Lalibela and has comfortable rooms and a terrace restaurant that look across beautiful gardens filled with unfeasibly colorful birds.

One of the girls on the staff of The Seven Olives:

Seven Olives girl

I shot these two videos at our hotel of some of the local birds:



16 thoughts on “Lalibela, Ethiopia

  1. Something you shouldn’t forget to mention about Ethiopia is that its food is damn good. Especially the injera bread… Anyway, walking in the town and talking to people was far more interesting than visiting the churches.

  2. Ran across your pictures while researching Lalibela – filling in some gaps in my journal from our trip. We were in Lalibela April 11-13, ate lunch at Seven Olives. Great Pictures!

  3. Thanks, Heather. I’m glad you liked the Lalibela pictures.

    That’s funny that we were staying at the Seven Olives literally just a few days before you arrived. Small world, huh?

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  8. Thanks Amanda,
    My ancestors left Adefa later known by Lalibela town around 1270 BC. I am from Eritrea but my ancestors came from Adefa around 1270 BC after the defeat of the Zague empire by Amhara an amhara revolt. Upon arrival to Eritrea my ancestors wanted their town to be remembered and named their new place Adefa. I always wondered what environment my forefathers came from and now thanks to your pictures and comments I knew.
    thanks again Amanda

  9. Pingback: The Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela – The Southeastern Group … | Viviana Web site

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