WHY A REPLICA?
Iconic structures and heritage sites represent history. Achievement. Few of us can name any in Africa beyond Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza.
Why is that?
Thanks to people like the philosopher Hegel, who made up out of whole cloth the idea that “Africa is no historical part of the world” and the writer Conrad who made “heart of darkness” a metaphor for Africa, our history is largely untaught and untold in the wider world.
We Africans need to learn more about each other’s history too. When travel is once again safe, we should do what we can to put our heritage sites, which so eloquently cement history in people’s minds, on the world’s bucket list. As well as our own.
Translated into English, the cross-shaped church is called House of St. George. King Lalibela is acknowledged to have been a visionary and a brilliant engineer. Bete Giorghis is the best known of Lalibela’s rock churches and the best preserved. It was built from the top down, chiseled into the shape of a cross and hollowed out from the inside using 12th century tools and technology. It is surrounded by a deep trench that has protected it from invaders and from the ravages of time.
Lalibela’s rock church is a tourist attraction, but first and foremost, it is a place of worship. Religious services may be suspended due to coronavirus, but here as in the rest of the world, prayer is not. This too shall pass.
WHAT COMES NEXT
The current pandemic is revealing the dangers of relying too heavily on tourism. Fortunately, the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS) has plans to build a state-of-the-art Observatory in Lalibela.
With its high altitude, thin air and minimal cloud cover, Lalibela is said to rival the famous Atacama desert in Chile for prime astronomical viewing.
If these plans sound far-fetched, imagine the skepticism in King Lalibela’s time.
The ESSS is headed by a young woman who fell in love with the stars the very first time she gazed through a telescope. Now she works to inspire young Ethiopians to be a part of the next generation of space science leaders.
Space science has appilcations in communications, farming and global health. Studies show that satellite systems can be used for forecasting communicable diseases, telemedicine and tele-education.
An Observatory would transform a small, rural town into a center for research and innovation. King Lalibela would be proud.