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The Unesco World Heritage site of Lalibela in Ethiopia is one of the most extraordinary places in the world. It contains eleven churches, all of them hewn from the native rock in imitation of buildings. However, Lalibela and the Ethiopian kingdom remained unknown in the West until the account of the first Portugese embassy to Ethiopia was published in the 16th century.
The site has traditionally been dated to the 12th or 13th century, with the legend attributing its founding to King Lalibala, ruler of a newly united kingdom a number of centuries after the fall of the sacred capital Aksum, which had converted to Christianity in the 4th century. More recently, dates as early at the 7th century or as late as the 15th century have also been proposed by academics. However, nothing of its accepted or assumed history can be regarded as certain.
In order to arrive at some certitude, the authors of this book dissected and thoroughly analyzed the architectural evidence, extending their study to the decorations, mural paintings and sculptures, church furnishings, manuscripts and crosses associated with the site. This was a daunting task, requiring a knowledge of Ethiopian culture and its languages as well as that of the surrounding cultures that the authors are rare in possessing. The reader's understanding progresses through a multiplication of the themes and perspectives, making this book a fascinating detective story!