Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cutting a Church out of Rocks

Bete Abba Libanos, Lalibela, Ethiopia
Somehow my interest in monolithic (or rock-cut) architecture has been renewed today. Cutting an entire building out of one piece of rock; it's amazing isn't it?! Unfortunately it didn't take long to find out that (many of) the most impressive monolithic buildings are either in countries outside of Europe, or in the most far away countries within Europe. I mean, take the gorgeous and world famous ''Lalibela Churches'' in Ethiopia. There are thirteen of them! (Well, okay, two of them are chapels, but you know what I mean.) Most of them built by Lalibela, in (and around) Lalibela, and built during the 12th and 13th centuries! The most famous of those thirteen churches - and probably the most famous monolithic church on earth! - is of course the cross-shaped Bete Giyorgis (''Church of Saint George''). But how about the less famous ones? The Bete Medhane Alem (''Church of the Saviour of the World''), also a Lalibela church, and probably the biggest monolithic building in the world! Or one of my definate favourites, and also a Lalibela church: the Bete Abba Libanos (''Church of Abbot Libanos''). A beautiful little church that is still connected to the rock it was cut out of, at the top. Or the curious Bete Yemrehanna Kristos (''Church of Yemrehanna Kristos'' - also a Lalibela Church), built in the 11th century in Aksumite style, but within a cave.
Bete Yemrehanna Kristos, Lalibela, Ethiopia

But surely there must be monolithic churches closer to home, I thought. And I was right: there are. In Turkey to be exact! In fact; the Göreme region in Cappadocia, in Turkey, is the home of multiple monolithic churches, showing gorgeous 10th and 11th century Byzantine frescos, whole underground cities, and of course a valley of ''fairy chimney'' rocks.
Byzantine 11th century fresco on the ceiling of the
Karanlik Kilise (''Dark Church''), Göreme, Turkey
And even closer to home, there are the Église Saint-Jean in the southwestern French village Aubeterre-sur-Dronne, and the 11th century Église Saint-Émilion in Saint-Émilion, also in the southwest of France. Though very beautiful, these two churches lack the gorgeous decorations that the Ethiopian and Turkish buildings have. And where the latter look like mysterious oriental palaces, full of details and refinement, that have withstood ages of human contact and (bad) weather, the European buildings - though overall less old than the ''African'' ones - look like they've been subjected to horrible wars and tornados every day for the past 400 years. But I must say I like their ''Romanesque-ish ruin''-looks too! 

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