*Includes a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents
In the Lasta Mountains of northern Ethiopia, high on an arid plateau in the foothills, the settlement of Lalibela slumbered for centuries as little more than a pilgrimage site at the end of a long and weary footpath. The ancient trade routes between the Eritrean coast and the central highland redoubts that would later coalesce as the imperial capital of Addis Ababa passed fifty miles to the east of Lalibela, and from the early thirteenth century, after the passing of Gebre Mesqel Lalibela himself, the site slipped into decline. The focus of imperial government shifted south, under the influence of successive emperors, as the holy sites of Roha faded from the popular consciousness. Only the occasional band of pilgrims made the journey over the rugged mountain passes, and across the waterless high valleys to repose at the mythical site, now known only to a handful of faithful acolytes.
The site first came to European attention when it was visited in the early 16th century by the Portuguese explorer Pêro da Covilhã, who struck inland from Zeila on the Somali coast in a quest for the legendary Kingdom of Prester John. He was received by the Emperor Eskender, but he was effectively held a prisoner in Ethiopia for 30 years. During that time, he visited and briefly recorded his impressions of Lalibela.