The more disparate southeast cluster is regarded by experts to be closer in architectural style to the ancient temples and churches of the Aksumite Empire. Several of its churches started life as secular excavations centuries before Lalibela’s time. The showstopper in this cluster is the imposing, fortress-like Bet Gebriel-Rufael, which is reached via a tall rock passageway and a wooden footbridge across a deep dry moat, and might well have been originally carved as part of a palatial complex for Aksumite royalty. It’s in rather better repair than the Bet Abba Libanos, a cave church which according to legend was built overnight by Meskel Kebre, the wife of Lalibela, with the help of angelic assistants. The most precisely worked church of the cluster – indeed the whole of Lalibela – is the monolithic Bet Amanuel, which has an exterior that mimics the classical Aksumite layered wood-and-stone style, also typified by the out-of-town Yemrehanna Kristos.

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Ethiopia features

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