The Medieval World, C. 400–1300

Art of Medieval Africa

What are the rock churches of Lalibela?

Lalibela was a medieval city in Ethiopia ruled by the Zagwe dynasty, which held power from 1137 until the end of the thirteenth century. The city was also an important Christian center and a popular pilgrimage route, and church-building projects were possibly conceived of as the construction of a “New Jerusalem” in the Ethiopian mountains.

At the behest of King Lalibela, Ethiopian Christians carved eleven churches out of red, volcanic rock, some of which are freestanding, while others are semi-detached and carved into rock walls. The churches are tall, narrow, and rectangular with a combination of arabesque and cruciform windows. These unique structures have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and remain an important site for Ethiopian Christians.

The Great Mosque at Djenné is the largest mud-brick structure in the world. Originally built as early as the thirteenth century, the mosque is regularly rebuilt by the community and is a symbol of the enduring influence of Islam in Africa.


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