After the fall of the Kingdom of Axum, the kings from the Zagwe dynasty transferred their residence to Lalibela, the south-east of Axum. There, they erected a flourishing and densely-populated capital city, the residence of their Middle Age dynasty. Lalibela, previously known as Roha, was called in this manner to commemorate the King of Lalibela from the end of 12th century. The city was established as New Jerusalem. In that historical period, travelling on pilgrimages to proper Jerusalem was impossible, because the lands between Jerusalem and Ethiopia had been conquered by Muslims.
The legend tells that Lalibela received a heavenly vision and angels helped to finish the work in a short time. But it is more likely that Lalibela received his inspiration during his exile in Jerusalem, which gave him a longing to built a kind of “new Jerusalem” in Ethiopia, accessible for all Ethiopians. The churches of Lalibela leave no one disinterested. These intriguing edifices have in their entirety been forged out in a homogeneous lump of red volcanic tuff. They seem to be absolutely unreal and created by some kind of a superhuman power. Rock temples might be admired in different places in the world, but it is solely here that not only the internal space, but also facades and external walls have been forged out. The churches of Lalibela are referred to as the least known of the eight miracles of the world, and they full deserve that name. The buildings are in their entirety forged out in rock, and, simultaneously, completely separated from that. In the subsequent centuries, Lalibela was gradually decreasing in importance, so as to become a small village.