Friday, 16 December 2011

Lalibela is a city in Ethiopia that is a centre of pilgrimage for much of the country

Lalibela is a city in Ethiopia that is a centre of pilgrimage for much of the country.

Get in
Lalibela is a home to an airport (ICAO code HALL, IATA LLI), Ethiopian Air lines has scheduled flights at least once a day. Flights are often overbooked: make sure you reconfirm your seat at least 1 day in advance and show up at the airport on time! Flights can also be rescheduled or cancelled at short notice because of weather or for operational reasons. The airport is mid-sized. For a tiny town like Lalibela, the airport seems over-sized. It is at least 30 minutes by shared taxi (40 birrs per person as of 2008) away from the town.

There is a daily bus from Addis-Ababa. It is a two-day journey with an overnight stop at Dessie. The bus passes through Woldia mid-morning and will pick up passengers from the bus station if it has room. Another bus runs daily from Woldia, leaving at dawn. Both the Woldia and Addis-Ababa buses depart Lalibela at 6am.

It is usually possible to get to/from Bahir Bar by bus in one day by changing buses at the village of Gashena, approximately 2 hours from Lalibela. If you are travelling to or from Gondar by bus, you will usually have to spend the night somewhere.

The drive from Gondar takes around 13 hours on a very rough and dusty road. The road is being upgraded, by the Chinese, but there is currently (April 2008) NO tarmac road into Lalibela from anywhere. The only piece of tarmac is from the airport into town.

Get around
You can rent minibuses to drive you around the city. They usually are found outside the air port. Unlike other bigger towns and cities in Ethiopia, There are NO blue and white minibuses that regularly run through the this small town. There also are few horse pulling carts.

You can walk safely around town (although people may look at you strangely or with amusement). School children may try to befriend you, and follow you around, perhaps begging.

This rural town is known around the world for its monolithic churches, which were built during the reign of Lalibela. There are 11 churches, assembled in three groups:

The Northern Group: Bete Medhane Alem, home to the Lalibela Cross and believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world, probably a copy of St Mary of Zion in Aksum. It is linked to Bete Maryam (possibly the oldest of the churches), Bete Golgotha (known for its arts and said to contain the tomb of King Lalibela), the Selassie Chapel and the Tomb of Adam.

The Western Group: Bete Giyorgis, said to be the most finely executed and best preserved church.

The Eastern Group: Bete Amanuel (possibly the former royal chapel), Bete Merkorios (which may be a former prison), Bete Abba Libanos and Bete Gabriel-Rufael (possibly a former royal palace), linked to a holy bakery.

Licenced guides are available from the tourist office in Lalibela for 150 birr per day. These guides are well trained and have an excellent working knowledge of the churches and good relationships with the priests. Unlicensed guides will approach you all over the village, but they often know very little about the churches and are best avoided.

The churches are open from 9:00 to 13:00 hours, and then from 14:00 to 17:00 hours.

Farther a field lie the monastery of Ashetan Maryam and Yimrehane Kristos church (possibly eleventh century, built in the Aksumite fashion but within a cave).

Contrary to certain spurious myths, the great rock-hewn churches of Lalibela were not built with the help of the Knights Templar; rather, they were produced solely by medieval Ethiopian civilization. However, there is controversy as to when the churches were constructed. Some scholars believe that the churches were built well before Lalibela and that Lalibela simply named them after himself.

Visit the weekly market (Saturday?) - not much you would want to buy, some local weaving possibly, but an invaluable insight into local life. Make sure you visit the donkey park.
Holidays. Jan 7th, Christmas or "Ledet", Jan 19, Epiphany or "Timkat" are two of the most festive. Lalibela in particular gets packed during these times, so best to plan in advance.

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