The Secret Underground World Of Lalibela, Ethiopia

Time Travel To The Bygone Era Of Jesus Christ

IN THE SUMMER OF 2012 on the way to my Kilimanjaro expedition (TZ) I step by the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for a day. During my visit I ended up in the National Museum, where a picture of a temple carved in the rocks near the ancient city of Lalibela attracted my attention. To organize my next African expedition to this holy place, It was like a seed in my mind that was growing gradually. 
Finally in May 2014 the day to start my journey to the little knows center of the ancient christianity has come...

Looking at the Mars' alike landscape from the illuminator of my flight, i am totally speechless. 

In the morning of May 6th, on the St. George's day, I have arrived to Lalibela without any pre-booked accommodation. Fortunately, only 5 minutes after landing i manage to find a descent place to stay over as well as promising guide named Gushav who claimed to know all hidden holy place around. Just a moment later and both of us are already seating in the old mini bus. The narrow road meanders with sharp curves till it reaches the top of the 2600m.a.s.l. canyon where my "7 Olive hotel" is located. The view is impressive

Gustav comes to pick me up after lunch break. He managed to find a Toyota Landcruzer SUV, because our first sport is Yimrhane Kristose which is 48km out-of-the-way, high in the mountain. 

Yemrehana Krestos is a church built about 1500 years ago inside a cave chamber. Few centuries ago somebody made a stone wall to protect this place from treasure hunters.

The gate keeper unlocked the old wooden door leading to an ancient underworld. 

Similar to the muslim habit, all visitors should remove their shoes. The floor is covered by grass mat. In the bottom of the cave chamber there was the church of Yemrehana Kristos. The name sounds very greek alike. The reason to build this ancient church inside a cave was to be able to preserve it for a longer period of time. 

Short after my enter i was greeted by the priest who looked rather muslim, but in fact he was very big orthodox believer. Even though the church was about 1500 years old, i was hard to impress. And then the priest offered to show me something behind the church...

Those are the remains of estimated 900+ orthodox pilgrims. Some of the bodies are placed inside coffins carved inside tree trunk. It's hard to say when those pilgrims were placed in this cave, but Gushav explained that it must be at the time when Jesus Christ was still live, about 2000 years ago.

A Journey From Hell To Heaven 

After I have seen enough in Yemrehana Kretos, we returned to Lalibela.


The big solid rock in Lalibela was carved vertically in 12th century. The legends says that there was unsuccessful attempt to kill King Gebre Mesqel by his brother that brought him in coma for 3 days. While been between the earth and heaven, he had a vision to build an underground mimic town of a Jerusalem, which was captured by the muslim at that time. It took King Mesqel 25 years to make his dream come true. 

The manmade paths and tunnels connect all 11 monolithic rock-cut churches recognised as UNESCO world heritage. 

An 800old wooden door leads to the small yard with a church carved only for 24h by 1200 pilgrims. All stairs, windows, doors, columns, walls are from one solid rock!


Each church's priest demonstrates to me its golden or silver meskels (crosses) dating at least 800 years ago. Being an orthodox christian, i am encouraged to kiss the meskals.

A 500 year old bible with pages made of goat skin with texts written in old amharic, which is still wide spoken in Ethiopia. 

The path transforms into a tunnel. Gushav and I walked for a while. Once we entered a 40~50sq.m. hall under the ground, he suddenly turned off  the only flashlight we have. Then Gushav asked me to turne several times around me in order to loose idea about any direction. As he explain this is the feeling of hell: dark, cold, disoriented. The adrenaline was rushing in my head. Gushav is asking me to trust in my belief in Got. I have to follow the direction I sense. I am walking without hurry for about 20min. Each minutes feels like an hour. My stretched above the head hands touch the ceiling of the dark tunnel. Slowly I have noticed the first beam of light that penetrated through the exit. What a relief! The positive warm feeling overtakes my soul. I am smiling...and Gushav tells this is how it feels to be in the heaven. 

Near the exit there was the unfinished construction of granary building.

A pilgrim enters one of the 11 rock-cut churches. All lines are perfectly horizontal. Each church has totally different decoration compared to the others. 

A female pilgrim stares at the wall of the church and preys. 

The level of details is spectacular.

Pilgrims at the entrance of rock-cut church Bet Medhane Alem

At any time of the day there are hundreds pilgrims to spot. They are everywhere.  

On the St. George's orthodox day (May 6th), I stay in front of the Bet Gyorgios (St. George) church. My name is Georgi (George in Bulgarian)...and it is my honour to be here. it's hard to explain, but here is very strong positive energy around Lalibela. 

My exploration of the Lalibela secret holy places finished with a visit to the street coffee merchant. The famous Ethiopian coffee is brewed on fire in fictile jugs and it's served with a local herb called "Adam's head".

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