Lalibela is one of the most iconic religious sites in all of Ethiopia. Among the holiest sites, it draws pilgrimages from Ethiopian Orthodox Christians throughout the country and the world. Its churches are testimony to the antiquity and importance of Christianity in Africa. Scholars have estimated the date of the site to be approximately 1187 when Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela ruled the area. Lalibela was known to have visited the Holy Land in his youth, and the plan of the site is thought to be based upon (but not copied from) the ancient city of Jerusalem.
Among the eleven beautiful rock-hewn monoliths on this site, is the stunning, cruciform Church of Saint George. Excavated forty feet (12.2m) below ground level into red volcanic rock, it—and indeed the entire site—is recognized by UNESCO as having “outstanding universal value.” Walkways and tunnels link the separate structures, and carvings and frescos decorate many of the walls and ceilings. A resident monk protects each church and the sacred inner sanctums, which are open only to priests.