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The Final Chapter in Ethiopia

Lalibela, Ethiopia

Described as ‘the jewel in Ethiopia’s crown’ the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela don’t fail to deliver, in fact they left me pretty much speechless. Not being religious I was not sure what to expect, particularly given many of those who visit here each year do so as part of pilgrimage - the Orthodox religions equivalent to a voyage to Mecca if you will.

Add to the equation that I had just returned from the Danakil Depression and it was going to take something special to finish my time in this wonderful country on a high. Special, mesmerising, astounding, beyond belief, spectacular, awe-inspiring, incredible. Take your pick from these superlatives, all can be applied to Lalibela and its showcase of churches, without doing them any kind of justice. You could say it’s one of those places you have to see to believe.

What amazed me the most, given the grandeur and sheer beauty of the buildings, was that they were carved out of one piece of rock. Had they been built using hand-carved blocks they would have been mightily impressive, that they were carved as one from the ground was almost unfathomable. Exploring the site, its multiple tunnels linking churches, hidden rooms and unexpected priests quietly praying gives one the sense of being on the set of an Indian Jones film.

Despite not being religious, from the moment I entered the first church I couldn’t help but feel a sense of calm and peace overcome me. It may sound strange to some but I felt a connection with my late Gran that I have not felt anywhere else before. In every church there was at least one priest quietly praying, often with several deeply religious locals. One church was also said to contain part of the Ark of the Covenant - but I will leave you to draw your own conclusions on the validity of that claim.

The star attraction is, without doubt, the single church that stands alone away from the rest - St George's church - carved in the shape of a cross. Having left this church until the end there was the danger we, Richard and myself, would be a little ‘churched-out’ and not appreciate its full beauty. Given its impressiveness there was never any danger of that, and even if there had been the mummified bodies at rest in one of the open tombs would have been worth the visit itself. Maybe it was my macabre side, we all have one deep down, but seeing these ancient remains of humans only added to the experience.

With Lalibela done it signalled the end of an amazing five weeks in Ethiopia, a country that should not be missed for anything, and the start of the onward journey to Sudan. By some small grace of God I managed to obtain both my Egyptian and Sudanese visas inside three days - given they can take up to three weeks I was pretty impressed - and it was with many happy memories that I arrived at the border to Sudan.

permalink written by  MarcusInAfrica on December 23, 2009 from Lalibela, Ethiopia
from the travel blog: Cape to Cardiff
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