Connect the dots

Friday, October 7, 2011

Between a Rock and a Holy Place

Holy rock
Cathedral-sized churches chiseled out of one piece of solid granite, the chapel of the Ark of the Covenant, 33 meter tombstones, fairy tale castles, and paintings of cherubs and St. George slaying the dragon.

Sounds like fantasy, huh?

Welcome to Ethiopia's popular northern attractions, where the unreal actually exists.

Arc of the Covenant in this chapel? Ask Indiana Jones.
Axum's great claim to fame are the the tablets of the ten commandments allegedly housed in this church. No way can you get close to that gate to even make an attempt to bribe the guard for some actual information. Instead, they try to distract you with a museum of former emperors' crowns and church crosses.

However, there's no denying that the pre-Christian Axumites were skilled craftsmen. The stelae reaching heights of up to 33 meters and carved from quarried granite are living proof. Here are the tombstones of the rich and famous.

View from our hotel. The only good thing about the hotel.
Engineering almost right

Alright, my subjects, let's make a place just as holy as the holy land. We're gonna one-up the folks in Jerusalem. These were the thoughts of emperor turned saint Lalibela who with his own hands created a series of jaw-dropping rock-hewn churches. Tools for the job: hammer and chisel.

Bete Medhane Alem
Interior pillar and window

Bete Gyorgis: the cherry on top
Side view of Bete Gyorgis
Bete Emmanuel

It wasn't too hard playing the part of princess in Gondar. Several old castles throughout the town made a very convincing set.

King Fasilades' (and Alex's) playground

By its exterior, you would never guess the extent to which its decorated inside. From floor to ceiling Debre Berhan Selassie is painted with saints' stories and hundreds of sweet cherubs look down on you from the ceiling.

Debre Berhan Selassie Church

The monks of Lake Tana scored not just with stunning island locations for their monasteries but the organic and beautifully decorated interiors they have to look at everyday when they pray.

Bamboo, stone, mud and straw

Guardians of the holy of holies painted on a juniper door

Bell to prayer

A monk showing ancient religious items and texts

Black headed weavers making homes on papyrus

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