Ethiopia’s Lalibela Rock-hewn Monasteries Need Traditional Care Now

These underground churches are built below ground level, yet they have remained without experiencing a single flood or sinking below ground-water level.

1. Original Report Title

Lalibela Rock-Hewn Monasteries Conservation Report by Mesfin Tadesse, October 28th 2018. Perth, Western Australia.

Mesfin Tadesse is a construction and civil (water development) engineer and registered builder. For his biography, click here.

2. Why Ethiopia’s Lalibela Rock-hewn Monasteries Need Traditional Care Now

Survival

The accompanying images are of the eighth wonder of the world: the 12 rock-hewn monasteries of Lalibela, Ethiopia. They are UNESCO World Heritage listed. To view more photos of the monasteries, click here.

This priceless asset needs to be looked after by professional archaeologists, building technicians and geologists, as well as the honest community worldwide. It needs conservation in readiness for handover to the next generation.

This marvellous ancient engineering work that is the Lalibela monasteries is vital to future engineering developments. Conserved, it will serve as a model generating construction engineering innovations that will change the world for the better.

These underground churches are built below ground level, yet they have remained without experiencing a single flood or sinking below ground water level.

The buildings were also protected by a unique overflow system.

The Lalibela monasteries have survived attacks by fire and bombing, as well as natural disasters including flooding of the surrounding countryside. This is largely due to the amazingly constructed underground-drainage system that did not use any kind of manufactured pipes and manholes. It includes manhole chambers and stormwater-drainage systems using retaining walls. The buildings were also protected by a unique overflow system.

Safety

Safety is of paramount importance. There are hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, including the very young, frail and elderly. For the protection of visitors, priests and monks, it is essential to install a handrail around the circle of underground churches, which are 30 metres down. This can be built cheaply with reasonable materials, and there is no excuse not to treat this as a priority.

Damage by the West

Photos illustrate damage from conservation carried out by the West that was also expensive and wasteful.

Photos above illustrate damage from conservation carried out by the West that was also expensive and wasteful.

They provide visual evidence that deterioration between the canvas awning and stone slab is not allowing the monastery walls to breathe, rapidly destroying the buildings. Support structures have been inserted directly into ancient masonry stonework, so that any movement causes cracks in the monastery walls.

Recommendation

Restoration needs to be done by experts; that is, the traditional owners.

This unprofessional work, lacking in all quality control and budget management, needs expert, monitored rectification. Restoration needs to be done by experts; that is, the traditional owners. Read a news report about local opinion: click here.

Disclaimer

This technical recommendation is independent. It is free of all political and religious influences, easter and western, as well as any other individual’s or group’s self interest and temporary benefit. It is not associated with any organisation. The author is a building technician with 31 years’ experience.

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