Home Institution

University of Vermont

Publication Date

Fall 2007

Program Name

Ethiopia: Sacred Traditions and Visual Culture


The eleven rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, Ethiopia have existed for almost a millennium. Cut directly from the volcanic rock of the area, the churches have attracted foreign attention for over fifty years to an area that still remains extremely rural. Recently, new attention is being given to the churches in an attempt to save them from deterioration that threatens both the structural integrity of the buildings and the priceless artwork inside. Leading the effort is the United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO, with help from the European Union, has launched a new project to build metal shelters that will cover and protect several of the churches at risk. This project, however has encountered several problems with its design, budget, and construction, and has caused controversy among the local community. These problems have raised questions about the success of the project. UNESCO has however, been much more successful in their community based efforts to save the intangible heritage of the area. This project, which UNESCO is sponsoring, has effectively preserved traditional craft skills, while also generating income in an area affected by extreme poverty. By comparing these two projects, it becomes clear that UNESCO has had much more success when working directly with the community.


Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration


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