Historic tour in Lalibela is one of Ethiopia's exciting tours, Lalibela is ethiopian holy town and second only to Axum, and is a center of pilgrimage for much of the country. Unlike Axum, the population of Lalibela is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. The layout and names of the major buildings in Lalibela are widely accepted, especially by the local clergy, to be a symbolic representation of Jerusalem.
This has led some experts to date the current form of its famous churches to the years following the capture of Jerusalem in 1187 by the Muslim soldier.
During the reign of Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela (a member of the Zagwe Dynasty, who ruled Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early 13th century) the current town of Lalibela was known as Roha. The saintly king was given this name due to a swarm of bees said to have surrounded him at his birth, which his mother took as a sign of his future reign as Emperor of Ethiopia.
The names of several places in the modern town and the general layout of the monolithic churches themselves are said to mimic names and patterns observed by Lalibela during the time he spent in Jerusalem and the Holy Land as a youth.
Lalibela is said to have seen Jerusalem and then attempted to build a new Jerusalem as his capital in response to the capture of old Jerusalem by Muslims in 1187. As such, many features have Biblical names - even the town's river is known as the River Jordan. It remained the capital of Ethiopia from the late 12th century and into the 13th century.
This rural town is known around the world for its churches carved from the living rock, which play an important part in the history of rock-cut architecture. Though the dating of the churches is not well established, most are thought to have been built during the reign of Lalibela, namely during the 12th and 13th centuries. There are 13 churches, assembled in four groups:
The Northern Group: Bet 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 Axum. 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.
Farther afield lie the monastery of Ashetan Maryam and Yimrehane Kristos church (possibly eleventh century, built in the Aksumite fashion but within a cave).
There is some controversy as to when some of the churches were constructed. David Buxton established the generally-accepted chronology, noting that "two of them follow, with great fidelity of detail, the tradition represented by Debra Damo as modified at Yemrahana Kristos." Since the time spent to carve these structures from the living rock must have taken longer than the few decades of King Lalibela's reign, Buxton assumes that the work extended into the 14th century. However, David Phillipson, professor of African archeology at Cambridge University, has proposed that the churches of Merkorios, Gabriel-Rufael, and Danagel were initially carved out of the rock half a millennium earlier, as fortifications or other palace structures in the waning days of the Axumite Kingdom, and that Lalibela's name simply came to be associated with them after his death. On the other hand, local historian Getachew Mekonnen credits Masqal Kibra, Lalibela's queen, with having one of the rock-hewn churches (Abba Libanos) built as a memorial for her husband after his death.
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