The Unesco World Heritage site of Lalibela in Ethiopia is one of the most extraordinary places in the world. It contains thirteen churches (in fact not all of these were constructed as churches), all of them hewn or carved from the native tufa rock in imitation of buildings.The site has usually been dated to the 13th century, when legend has it it was founded by King Lalibala, ruler of a newly united kingdom a number of centuries after the fall of the sacred capital Aksum, which had converted to Christianity in the 4th century. However, nothing of its accepted or assumed history can be regarded as certain. Lalibela and the Ethiopian kingdom remained unknown to the West during the period of the Crusades, and first came to Western notice when its ruler sent an embassy to Portugal at the beginning of the 16th century. Dissecting the fragmentary evidence – including the decorations, church furnishings, manuscripts and mural paintings – associated with the site is a daunting task, requiring a knowledge of Ethiopian culture and its languages that the authors of this book are rare in possessing. This is the first book to consider this extraordinary site in all its many dimensions – historical and cultural, archaeological, architectural, art historical and documentary. It is a fascinating detective story!
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