Lulu Norman, 4 September 1997
The eighth wonder of the world was closed. The attendant told us that this was due to the theft of a sacred artefact from one of the churches. ‘By a tourist,’ he said with feeling. We were standing outside the subterranean red churches of Lalibela in northern Ethiopia. The churches are carved from the rock to a height of more than ten metres and linked by passages, tunnels, arches, yards and trenches dug from the same rock. They are said to have been built within 23 years but stories that they were created overnight by hosts of angels are scarcely less credible, so extraordinary is their beauty and the fact of their construction; four of them are strictly monolithic, attached to the rock only at their bases. Hermits were crawling out of the crevices, toppling skulls and bones and jostling with beggars, priests and tourists on the tiny walkways that rise over the graves of their predecessors.