Located only 40km from the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela the afromontane forest is amongst the region’s most pristine and secluded natural wonders, offering breath taking views, endemic birds and wild life species as well as the third highest peak in the country (4284m)
The Area is made of a diversity of vegetation types including bush lands, woodland, montane dry forest and afro alpine grassland.
The montane dry forest exists between 2950m and 3300m the dominate species are Erica arborean, hypericum revolutum (st.john’s wort), African juniper ( juniperus procera) and rosa abyssinica (the only wild rose in Africa ). Between 3300m and 3600m, tall grasses, giant lobelias and different thristles become more frequent.
Moving upwards from 3600m to 4284m the vegetation changes rather abrupty in to moorlands covered with the shrubby vegetation of Euryops pinafolius (charenfe).
The people of the area
The population of the area belongs to the Amhara ethnic group which is one of the largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia. The religion is predominately Orthodox Christian and Amharic is the local language. The area is the home of the Zagwe rulers who ruled Ethiopia following the decline of the Axumite Empire and provided the ruling elite of the Zagwe dynasty.
The area is characterized by steep cliffs and jagged peaks. Its diverse topography includes several high plateaus surrounded by gigantic eroded abysses dotted with the three highest peaks. The big zigit (4,080m), the small zigit (4,035m), and the rim Gedel or Abune Yosef peak (4284m) which is the third highest peak in the country. The area diverse topography also includes mountain chains cut by gorges and valleys that offer breath taking views.
History of Lalibela
The Zagwe kings ruled until the 13th century when a famous priest, Tekla Haymanot, persuaded them to abdicate in favor of a descendent of the old Axumite Solomonic dynasty. However, according to legened before the throne of Ethiopia was restored to its rightful rulers upon command of God and with the help of angels, Lalibela’s pious zeal converted the royal residence of the zagwe in town of Roha in to a prayer of stone. The Ethiopian church later canonized him and the name of Roha to Lalibela, Roha the center of worldly might, became Lalibela the holy city, pilgrims to lalibela shared the same blessing as pilgrims to Jerusalem. According to legend that Lalibela grew up in Roha where his brother was king. It is said that bees prophesied his future greatness and Ethiopian folklore still has it that bees in dream for greatness, social advance and coming riches.
The king made jealous by these prophecies about his brother, tried to poison him but the poison merely cast Lalibela in to death like sleep for three days. During these days an angel carried his soul to heaven to show him the churches, which he was to built. Returned once more to earth he withdrew into the wilderness even if the fame of the seven wonders of the world has been out worn and the word ‘’wonder’’ itself has been misused too often the visitor will rediscover its true meaning, when faced with the rock churches of Lalibela. Ever since the first European to describe Lalibela, Francisco Alvarez, came to this holy city between 1521 and 1525, travelers have tried to put in to words their experience praising it as a “new Jerusalem”, a “Golgotha”, the “Christian citadel in the mountains of wondrous Ethiopia”. Lalibela is a home to 11 medieval monolithic churches that were curved out of rock. Still a place of pilgrimage and devotion, the building of this church is attributed to king Lalibela who set out to construct a " new Jerusalem “ in the 12th century after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the holy land.
Churches around Lalibela
Situated at an altitude of around 2,700 m, it is an old built up church with in a large cave. It is a particularly time example of late Axumite architecture built with alternating layers of wood and granite faced with white gypsum that give is the appearance of a gigantic layered chocolate cream cake.
Among many interesting architectural features are the cruciform carved windows, an etched wood panel roof, a coffer ceiling with inlaid hexagons and a large dome over the sanctuary. Yemerehane Christos, the third Zagwe ruler and a predecessor of king Lalibela, recorded ascending to the throne in 1087 AD and ruling for about 40 years.
This is the easiest of all the outlying churches to reach in the monastery of Nakutolab which is named after its constructor, the nephew and successor of king Lalibela. The monastery accredited to Nakuotolab consists of a relatively simple church built around a shallow cave in which several holy pools are fed by natural springs.
Asheten Maryam - The high mountain over looking Lalibela.
This monastery is also associated with king Nakutolab. In this church there are some interesting crosses and other church treasures but the excursion is just as remarkable for the church setting and the views on the way up.
One of the most interesting outlying churches is Genete maryam, a large monolith carved into a pink- tinged out crop near the source of the Tekaza River. Supported by pillars, the church is very different from any excavations in Lalibela in that it is not hidden within a trench, but carved open on a rock hill top, though the cover of scaffolding rather detracts from the impact of seeing in from far. Accourding to tradition, Genete Maryam was excavated during the reign of Yakuno Amlake, the king who restored the Solomonic line in the early 13th century. A notable feature of the interior in the elaborate painting said to date to the 13th century.
Inaccessible by road, is a built –up cave church similar in style to Yemerhanna Kirstos in its characteristically axumite use of layered wood and stone tradition holds that the church dates to the 6th century AD. The decorated interior boasts intricate geometric patterns as well as many old paintings- notably one of rosters fighting next to the sun and the moon above the door. The monastic church lies on a spur of mount Abune Joseph about three hours from Genete Maryam by foot or mule.
Churches near Bilbilla
These relatively compact and very varied circuit of churches comprises Yemerhanna Keistos, Arbatu Insesa, Bilbilla Christos and Liliballa Giyorges. These churches all stand with in 10km of the village of Bilbilla some 30km from Lalibela off the road north wards to Sekota and Adewa. To explore all these churches a long this circulates by vehicle takes about 8 hour.
There are 43 known species of mammals on Abune yoseph. Of the 32 species of Abyssinian endemic mammals seven can be found in Abune yoseph. The most spectacular of these are the Ethiopian wolf and gelada and other species to look out for include the golden jackal, hyena, caracal, leopard, rock hyrax, duiker, klipspringer and starck’share.
Of the 860 species of birds found in Ethiopia over 220 have been identified on the Abune yoseph. The Abune Yoseph Mountains also attracts a few pairs of golden eagles.
Bird endemic to Ethiopia that are found in Abune Yosef
COMMON NAME SCIENTIFIC NAME
Yellow- fronted parrot poicephalus flavifrons
Erlanger’s lark Calanndrella erlangeri
Abyssinia long claw Macronyx flavicollis
Abyssinian cat bird Paroplasma gainieri
Black- headed siskin Serinuserinusnigriceps
Ankober serin Serinus ankoberensis
Blue- winged goose Cyanochen cyanopterus