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Lalibela "New Jerusalem"

    Lalibela Rock-hewn Churches, the “New Jerusalem”
    By Dinberu T. Woldemariam

    Lalibela is located in Ethiopian highland, 645kms to the north from the capital city, Addis Ababa. Lalibela is famous for its monolithic churches which seen to rise out of the very living rock. The town and churches are named after an early 13th century king called Lalibela. Lalibela means “the bee recognizes its sovereignty”(UNESCO, 2014). Lalibela was part of a dynasty which traces its origins back to the king of Israel. It is believed that, the king was given a vision of Jerusalem: an inspire to build a “New Jerusalem” as his capital after Muslims invasion brought to end pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the holy land. Monolithic means off one stone (UNESCO, 2014). The structures curved from the single piece of stone and they reflect sophisticated building tradition applied with skilled hand (Barto, 2009).A total of 13 churches were hewn from the living rock of gigantic blocks. The largest of all is “Biete Medhani Alem” and also it is believed to be the largest monolithic church in the world (UNESCO, 2014). The rock churches linked to each other by tunnels and a river called Jordan passes through in the middle, separating the “earthly Jerusalem” from “heavenly Jerusalem” (Briggs & Blatt, 2009)

    Since the original function of the rock hewn churches was religious purpose, it continues serving Ethiopian Orthodox church by being holy place for pilgrimages. These historical heritages managed by the state and the church. Besides serving as a church, Lalibela is also playing significant role by being one of the most visited tourist destination in Ethiopia and a national pride (Sisay, 2009). Lalibel attained the status UNESCO world heritage site in 1978 and described as “exceptionally fine examples of a long established Ethiopian building tradition” (UNESCO, 2014). The rock hewn churches are the living evidence for Ethiopians ancient civilization. Considerable conservation activities like covering by temporarily shelter has been done so far in cooperation with UNESCO (Odiaua, 2010).    

    Managerial Challenges

    The rock churches are managed jointly by the church and state (UNESCO, 2014). The Orthodox Church has been using the rock churches as a church for centuries and wants keep receiving large numbers of pilgrimages to the area every year for the future as well. In the meantime the state needs to reserve the rock churches as heritage sites and wants to develop the place as tourist destination, which leads to infrastructure construction into and around the site (Odiaua, 2010).These and other different beneficiaries want to fulfill their expectation and interests from the heritage site. Thus, harmonizing different activities around the site become principal issue for conserving the heritage since coordination between the partners are not effective as it should be (Odiaua, 2010). And I believe this can be taken as one managerial challenge. The boundary and buffer zone for the rock hewn church has not yet identified and demarcated. These issues accounted for the construction of different unplanned infrastructures and resident settlement around the site (Odiaua, 2010).  The above mentioned managerial problems might sum up and pointing on the absence of WHS management plan. In fact, some conservation action plans were established but not yet implemented. And one of the reasons why the plans haven’t been implemented is lack of surrounding community involvement in the conservation plans of tangible and intangible heritages in the site (Odiaua, 2010). In this scenario, participating different stakeholders including the community would have changed the present problem regarding implementation since involvement of different stakeholders is very advisable for developing countries like Ethiopia (Aas, 2005)                         



    -Aas, C., Ladkin, A. and Fletcher, J. (2005). Stakeholder collaboration and heritage management. Annals of Tourism Research, 32(1), pp.28-48.

    -Barton, J. (2009). 3D laser scanning and the conservation of earthen architecture: a case study at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Merv, Turkmenistan. World Archaeology, 41(3), pp.489-504.

    -Briggs, P. and Blatt, B. (2009). Ethiopia. Chalfont St Peter: Bradt Travel Guides.

    -Delmonaco, G., Margottini, C. and Spizzichino, D. (2010). Weathering processes, structural degradation and slope-structure stability of rock-hewn churches of Lalibela (Ethiopia). Geological Society, London, Engineering Geology Special Publications, 23(1), pp.131-147.

    -Odiaua, I. (2010). Mission Report Earthen architecture on the Lalibela World Heritage Site. Lalibela, Ethiopia: UNESCO, p.143.

    -Sisay, A. (2009), Historical Development of Travel and Tourism in Ethiopia, Commercial Printing Press, Addis Ababa. 

    -UNESCO, (2014). UNESCO. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2014].


    -Centre, U. (2014). [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2014].

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    Comments (5)

    Viewing 5 of 5 comments: view all
    Hey Dinberu!

    You chose a very special site and the description you wrote is very interesting! Also the managerial issues you describe seem to be sound and based on the (very good) references you found. To make it easier for the reader to follow your text, please have another look on grammar mistakes, sometimes words are missing, like "a" or "to". And in the first part it is not completely clear to me if the words put in quotation marks are direct quotes, or if the marks mean sth else. Besides this, really nice work and interesting case.

    Posted 23:32, 16 Nov 2014
    Thank you Merle for the comment.
    I will do the proof reading but, i believe the quotes are appropriate. When you want to imply the word or the phrase is dubious it is common to put quotation marks on it since, those phrases are oral traditions. Anyways thank you that is really kind of you to put your comments.
    Dinberu edited 00:13, 17 Nov 2014
    Posted 00:11, 17 Nov 2014
    It is very interesting to know this site. The church is very unique that made by one stone. I like to read your word although there will be small mistake in it. But my english is not good, I am not sure about those mistakes sometimes. Generally, it is a good work.
    Posted 15:38, 17 Nov 2014
    I just wonder how it would be possible to get locals to be involved more. I mean we are often talk about the local community involvement in the preservation of heritage, but what are the ways to manage it, who is suppose to do the first step? It is sometimes easier to say than to do.
    I agree with Merle that you need to make sure to use page number or a more detailed reference in cases if you use the quotes in your text. I mentioned earlier that you have not properly addressed the UNESCO's web-site, it is something that you need to improve in the future, think of it next time.
    Posted 22:09, 21 Nov 2014
    Thank you Albina,
    Local or federal government is the responsible organ to facilitate coordination between different stakeholders including the community. Community involvement can be practiced on conservation plan drafting. Prioritize community's interest on the heritage sites could be a motivation for the community to participate actively in any activity regarding the heritage. Empowering the community also very important to ensure heritage conservation sustainability.
    Dinberu edited 11:07, 24 Nov 2014
    Posted 11:03, 24 Nov 2014
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