There are 11 monolithic churches in Lalibela and approximately 120 of them total in northern Ethiopia. About 3/4 of these churches are still in active use so this is *not* an archaeological site. It is an active place at the edge of a lively village set into the hills, full of winding streets where no cars will ever fit. There are worshipers, priests, monks, nuns, pilgrims, and beggars. There are devotees who sleep in holes in the walls.  The keeper of each church will happily show you the treasures over which he is guardian: sacred books and artifacts and, if you are lucky, you may even be able to witness one of the masses that last 12-24 hours if you ask. The men prop themselves up with "prayer" sticks they wedge under their armpits and beat 2 huge double-sided drums while everyone chants and sings. The churches were carved in the 12th century, each out of a single block of living stone, excavated from the hillside. There is a wonderful myth about the construction, ordered by King Lalibela, as each building was completed in only 8-12 years. Each day the men would build, and at night the angels would match their efforts, and that is how these amazing buildings were completed in such a short time frame --  in the 12th century! As the churches are carved into excavated monoliths of natural rock, they are approached on earthen paths from above and thin, dark passageways with stairs carved into the stone lead down to the buildings themselves. The buildings are intricately carved inside and out and t is very cold and dark and mysterious inside. Pictures are not at all welcome, not of the inside of the buildings nor of the people worshiping there. However, there are some who want their story revealed to the western world and these priest will bring their treasures (an ancient book, a staff, a dagger) and stand in the doorway to be photographed. The books are written in a scared, ancient language known only to the priests, who must be male. This place is living history, the origins of Christianity still in active practice today and should not be missed on any visit to Africa. Wandering through the village, traditional Ethiopian life is easily witnessed; the making of the "spit bread" Injara or the weaving of dishes, for example. There is always a child around who speaks English and will readily serve as a guide for a small fee. This is highly recommended as it reveals another, local level of the goings on of this unbelievable place.