Written by Sherry
Thursday, 27 September 2007 04:57
The New York Times has a piece this morning about tourism's re-discovery of ancient Christian Ethiopia and the rock churches of LALIBELA.
Legend has it that these churches were carved below ground at the end of 11th century and beginning of the 12th after God ordered King Lalibela to build churches the world had never seen -- and dispatched a team of angels to help him.
Ethiopia boasts eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites but decades of hunger, conflict and political instability have kept the country and its fabled palaces, obelisks and castles off the beaten track for most visitors to Africa.
Tourism represents a mere 2.5 percent of its gross national product -- something the government is keen to change.
It has set the ambitious goal of attracting one million foreign visitors a year by 2010, quadrupling current figures.
Religious tourism may prove to be the answer.
"We are focusing on our comparative advantage, which is the diversity of the cultures of the Ethiopian people, and ... the faith aspect," Dirir said.
TOO MANY TOURISTS?
Far from being a dead relic, Lalibela's churches throng with local worshippers on any given day.
Wrapped in white Muslim robes, some read Biblical passages on parchment in Ge'ez, a 2,500 year-old language. Others press lips and foreheads to damp walls, clustering round pillars or prostrating themselves to kiss the stone floors.
Check out this collection of incredible pictures from northern Ethopia, which includes the magnificent St. George above.