During the first few days of January, thousands of devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians may be seen flocking to the town of Lalibela to visit what is now being called the "New Jerusalem." This holy city is composed of 11 interconnected hand-carved churches that are connected through a series of mazes and tunnels.
The first days of January mark the celebration of Genna (also known as Ledet), which is the Ethiopian calendar's version of Christmas. During these holidays pilgrims travel barefoot to the holy land of Lalibela to experience what is described to be a path from darkness into light: a coming out into heaven.
The site was constructed in the 12th century AD by the Ethiopian Christian leader, King Lalibela, as a response to the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem. This "New Jerusalem," having seen over 800 years of history and culture, has been named a permanent UNESCO World Heritage Site.
According to a report by CNN, Lalibela was created to provide a safe area for Christians to practice their religion during an ongoing Muslim invasion from the North. The concealed site features churches, catacombs, and passageways that are dug meters below the ground.
The pilgrimage site is considered invisible from a distance, with its roof level with the ground. The only distinguishable mark of the location is a Greek Orthodox cross, located in the center of a twelve-meter-deep man-made crater.
Lalibela's eleven churches are all hand-carved into the monolithic blocks of stone of the nearby mountains. Each church is a product of painstaking hammer and chisel work to create floors, roofs, windows, etc.
The site's eleven churches are connected through an elaborate series of mazes, tunnels, and ditches. These pitch black passageways are considered to be the darkness that will lead all to the light waiting at the end.
According to News.com, as many as 20, 000 people have been known to travel to Lalibela at the beginning of each year to celebrate the Ethiopian holiday. Most pilgrims have been observed to travel barefoot, sleep on the ground, and continuously celebrate through prayer and worship throughout the once-in-a-lifetime journey.
The religious pilgrimage is said to be a great example of community, spirituality, and hospitality. This unique celebration is observed to be full of hope and understanding, with God at the center of every action, particularly of the white-robed travelers.
According to recent statistics, only a bare minimum of pilgrims have been identified as foreigners. The site's lack of global awareness may be attributed to Ethiopia's recent State of Emergency and poor economic stature. However, the European Council on Tourism and Trade has recently named the country as the "World's Best Tourism Destination".
The government hopes that rising awareness of Ethiopia's cultural and historical sites will raise it tourism. With an increase of twelve percent over the past year, the government hopes to see an even greater rise in tourism in the years to come.
This article is copyrighted by Travelers Today, the travel news leader