Bet Giyorgis church in Lalibela, Ethiopia as seen from the air on a Sunday morning, during Ethiopian Orthodox religious services. Perhaps the most beautiful of the monolithic churches, its roof is cut into the shape of a square cross, and visitors enter the church via a stairs cut down into the volcanic rock. These stairways deepen into trenches that connect to a tunnel that opens to base of the church and its entrance.
Some eight hundred years ago the Ethiopian King Lalibela had a divine vision to carve a new Jerusalem from volcanic stone underneath his place of birth. He hired workmen to chisel this vision out of solid stone, starting out with the surface of the roof at ground level, then carving down the outside of the walls, then tunneled in the windows. Once inside the carved up to the roof, then out and downwards to what would be the ground floor, and then out through the ground level doors. The architectural styles are based on those of more ancient built-up churches, and show shapes of what were wooden pillars and beams, but here they are excavated from solid stone in stone.
Some 90% of Ethiopia's 110 million people are small scale agriculturalists, with scarcely any cash crop for income, or access to electricity and plumbing. But change is coming rapidly, with new hydro-electric dams, and one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa.
- George Steinmetz
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