Ethiopia encourages tourists to visit rock-hewn, 13th century churches

Ethiopia, long known as a country of poverty and famine, hopes to change its image through tourism, especially through visits to medieval sites such as Lalibela, where eleven 13th century churches were "chiselled out of the town's red volcanic rock hills." David Smith of The Guardian has a feature story. (photos)

One of the churches, Bet Giyorgis, or Church of St George, is cross-shaped and dug into a deep pit, requiring visitors to descend steep, stone stairs. The inside of the church, like the outside, is intricately carved. "If you go inside one of the churches here you can feel it, like an energy coming out and touching you," said Roberto Montemar, manager of the Lal Hotel Lalibela. "It goes beyond comprehension how they were able to do it when they did it, the detail they put into them."