1 February 2018

Ethiopia: Replicating Ancient Architecture

Ethiopia's wonderful architectural heritages, the Rock Hewn Churches of Lalibela has always impressed the world. The monolithic Churches were built centuries ago and they still catch the eyes and hearts of tourists from around the globe. It reflects the then civilization of the country.

There are two views regarding the ancient civilization and respective architecture of the time. According to the hagiography of King Lalibela, the church is built by religious Ethiopians supported by angels. In this regard, the whole architectural knowledge is attributed to spiritual revelation. The other view is that the then Ethiopian architectural civilization had the capacity to build such an edifice. But the fact of the matter is this dynamic architecture is built during the reign of King Lalibela in the 12th century. Even the name of the churches is given after the name of the king.

Today, the legacy of this architectural knowledge has been replicated by a person called Abba Gebremeskel Tessema, a monk who is living in the Gashina town of Northern Wollo Zone in Amhara State. He revived the knowledge of constructing notable architecture from a single rock. The whole construction system is derived from the ancient architectural knowledge that resulted in the 11 Rock Hewn Churches of Lalibela. Abba Gebremeskel used traditional tools to craft and erect the church. Since 2011, he has accomplished the construction of four churches crafted from a single rock.

Speaking about the construction of the churches, Gebremeskel, who has plan to construct additional churches told the Amhara Mass Media Agency, that the whole work is the result of God's gift to human beings. And he said that the ancient churches of Lalibela were also built with the help of God and the same is true to his architectures.

Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage stated that a heritage could be a result of indigenous knowledge that was once in practice and valuable to reflect the then features including culture, norms and architectural formats of a given society. Therefore, the new reconstruction of the previous Lalibela churches could be among the architectural heritages of the country. However, it needs additional evaluation by experts.

According to Dessalegn Abebaw, a Cultural Heritage Inventory, Inspection and Standardization Director at the Authority, a heritage is anything that could reflect a history, culture, art, artifact and so on of a given country. There are also heritages inscribed due to their rarity, astonishing nature and the application of indigenous knowledge, among others.

He noted that the new Lalibela that has recently erected in Northern Wollo reflects the revival of indigenous architectural knowledge and replica of historic feature. Therefore, the new churches have the chance to be inscribed among the national tangible heritages.

As to him, the country is home to various tangible and intangible heritages. Till now, it has inscribed about 35,000 and 2000 movable and immovable tangible heritages respectively. Inscribing a heritage helps to ease heritage management, conservation, protection and promotion activities, he said. The authority has been inscribing and conserving heritages and has recently started to implement a new system that allows state tourism bureaus to undertake heritage conservation activities. Today, the authority mainly conserves national heritages.

Lalibela is a living heritage. Its architectural skills have been transmitted from one generation to the other. He mentioned that conserving a heritage is not only the responsibility of institutions; the people should also be patrons of the heritages. In addition, religious institutions must play their due role by allocating portion of the money collected from tourist to the conservation activities.

On the other hand, today various museums are constructing by the religious institutions and this is a good move to strengthen conservation mechanisms.

Higher learning institutions are also playing important role in conserving heritages mainly through deploying experts. Here, the activities undertaking by Bahir Dar, Debere Markos, Mekele and Dilla universities are notable ones.

Therefore, inscribing, conserving and promoting heritages would help the nation to gain the needed benefit from the sector. Wadla Woreda Culture and Tourism Bureau Head Yaregal Maireg told that his bureau has set to preserve and promote the new architectural heritage which is called the 'Second Lalibela' so as to utilize it for tourism. As to him, his bureau would facilitate tourism infrastructures to attract tourists in the area.

Preserving such indigenous knowledge based on architectural heritage would help the country to develop the knowledge throughout generations and exploit the heritage for tourism. The professionals in the field also ought to play their due role in identifying heritages.

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