To go from Adigrat to Lalibela, we avoided the main road south of Mekelle as this road is supposed to be where a lot of kids throw stones at tourist cars. We took a parallel running road further inland instead which turned out to be a really beautiful "dirt road". Still, our friends Stan and Anne from "Slow Donkey" had a melon-sized rock thrown at them by two youngsters which missed them only by half a meter while they were ascending into Lalibela.
Visiting the Ethiopian rock hewn churches in Lalibela or at other places is an experience totally different to visiting other churches.
You've got to use narrow and steep defiles to access the churches to be able to reach their ground level. Sometimes, it is the other way round, and you have to climb steep cliffs using wooden ladders that look like they will collapse under you in the split of a second.
In Lalibela, some passages leading to the churches are very narrow and sometimes pitch-dark (a guide told me that that was planned, as the passage should symbolize going from hell, i.e. 30 metres under the rock in total darkness, to paradise, i.e. the church).
Then, you stand in awe in front of an immense church hewn out of the mountain by hand and, after having taken your shoes off, you enter a completely different world of religious contemplation.
It is a twilight world of silently praying shapes wrapped in white garments sitting on the carpeted floor and priests continuously humming their prayers.
You go further in look in awe at the beautifully decorated ceilings while your feet feel the dust on the worn-out carpets that have been lying here for ages. Frankinscense vapours tickle your nose and candles burn in hidden nooks. While you visit, Ethiopians continue to silently pray.
For us, it is really unimaginatively impressive how these churches must have been built, hewn right out of the hard rock by the hands of long gone generations of Ethiopians using only hammer and chisel. ... Was it the deep faith these people had that made them "construct" these wonderful pieces of architecture ... or was it fear of death and hope for a second life after death reached through hard work and praying?
From a historical point of view, the churches were built between the 8th and 12th century. There are many stories about why they were being built, most of them named after the 12th century king Lalibela. He seemed to have wanted to create a new Jerusalem, because either he was not able to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or he had to fled to Jerusalem in fear of persecution from his brother and vowed to build a new Jerusalem if he had the chance to return to his home country.