Key information: Ashetan Maryam
- Thrilling walk around a spectacular formation, taking in an extraordinary atmospheric monastery-church.
- Walkopedia rating93.5
- Natural interest13
- Human interest17
- Negative points0
- Total rating93.5
- Length: 2 hours
- Maximum Altitude: 3,200m
- Level of Difficulty: Moderate
The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are justly famous, but not our focus, other than to say spend at least 2 days there, and take half a day for this walk, which is a brilliant varient as well as a fine introduction to Ethiopia's tradition of building rock-hewn churches and monasteries in extraordinary mountain-top or cliff-face positions.
This monastery-with-church is not as fine as the best of the central Lalibela complexes, but it is thrilling and moving nonetheless, hacked into the basalt of a ridge top hundreds of metres above Lalibela. Its beauty and atmosphere, its location and the walk in make for absurdly exciting and inspiring walking. It is said to be King Lalibela’s first construction. Its resident priest is (as of 2019) a sweet and gentle man.
You can walk the 500m up from Lalibela in somewhere between 3-5hrs (estimates vary), an interesting enough climb though suburbs, then farmland, villages and scrub, but it is demanding at this altitude, and we would argue doesn't pass the reward/effort calculation. We took tuk-tuks to the high roadhead, an interesting and enjoyable half hour journey in it's own right. Sorry, but we are not self-flagellators for the sake of it...
The path climbs above the last huts of the roadhead village, flattening out to follow a ledge around the lower reaches of a cliff-bowl, gentle farmland just below, then Lalibela itself and the far-away broken valleys and ridges of the Ethiopian highlands. Above are the cliffs of this butte-like formation, a monastic cell on its top, and a quiet grey sky.
At the end of a promontory, we turn up into a narrow gulley which becomes an extraordinary tunnel which emerges, with a Petra flourish, into the tiny courtyard of the monastery. It is all marvellous.
After a poke about, you need to head out round the back of the complex, to follow a path through steep and atmospheric terracing with vast views for perhaps 10 minutes round to below a saddle in the high cliffs. Turn uphill and follow paths to the saddle for views, again across the Lalibela hinterland.
Descend on steep farm paths, down through field and pine stands back to the road just below the village.
About an hour's walking, quite a lot longer with all that history and spirituality to contemplate and those views to admire.
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