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Within a glorious high altitude setting of rocky escarpments and craggy mountains is the medieval town of Lalibela. Not just a tourist attraction, it’s an active place of Christian worship with 11 monolithic rock-hewn churches inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. White robed hermit priests make the ground breath with their music here. This settlement is an essential place to visit in Ethiopia.

Built high above much of the rest of the country, Lalibela has grown up in isolation. As a result, the stark grandeur of the surrounds and unusual architecture of the circular, two-storey houses clinging to the mountains would be worth a visit even without the churches.

However, the stone-hewn churches are the main reason to visit this area. These enormous structures reach great heights and are connected by mazes of passages and tunnels. Guides will take you on a tour from the northwestern Bet Medhane Alem, the largest monolithic rock-hewn church in the world at 11.5m high, to the southern Bet Mercurios, a 1400 year old cave church occupied by white-robed priests who live as hermits.

The site is an active Christian place of worship. The churches are the spiritual centre of the town and are not hidden away for preservation, or dressed up for tourists. Many of these are below ground level and the town beats to the rhythm of the drums and chants sung by the hermit priests.

Priest gathering in Lalibela

Largely unknown and undiscovered, Lalibela is not to be missed.

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