built the Mumtaz Mahal, a palace for his favorite daughter Jahanara Begum.

Mughal power waned in the eighteenth century. The British captured Delhi in 1803, and the city was the focus of India’s first war of independence—the British still prefer to call it the Indian Mutiny—in 1857. In 1911 the colonials moved their imperial capital from Calcutta to Delhi and began to build the eighth city, New Delhi, officially inaugurated in 1931. India finally expelled the British in 1947, and the nation celebrates its liberty by flying the Indian flag above Lal Quila each 15 August, Independence Day.

Further reading

Blake, Stephen P. 1991. Shahjahanabad: The Sovereign City in Mughal India, 1639–1739. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Nicholson, Louise, and Francesco Venturi. 1989. Red Fort, Delhi. London: Tauris Parke Books.

Spear, Thomas George Percival. 1994. Delhi, Its Monuments and History. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Lalibela rock-hewn churches


Lalibela is a village in the mountainous Welo region of northern Ethiopia, about 440 miles (700 kilometers) north of Addis Ababa; in the Middle Ages it was known as Roha and was the capital of the Zagwe dynasty. Standing on a rock terrace at an elevation of 8,500 feet (2,600 meters), it is the site of eleven large rock-hewn monastic churches that date from the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Each is architecturally distinctive and all are finely carved inside and out. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, they are not the earliest such churches in Ethiopia (others predate them by at least 500 years), but they are widely recognized as the most beautiful. Francisco Alvarez, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary, visited Lalibela in the 1520s, the first European to see the churches. He was reluctant to report to his superiors, fearing that they would not believe his account of buildings “unlike any to be seen elsewhere in the world.” Nevertheless, he described them. “hewn entirely out of the living rock, which is sculpted with great ingenuity.” The culturally unique churches are remarkable for that reason: each has been cut from the purple-red volcanic tufa, in some cases 90 feet (27 meters) into the ground. Some of them are connected by tunnels or passageways open to the sky. Even to the modern mind, they are an architectural marvel.

The history of the churches is swathed in mythology. It is probable that King Lalibela (1181–1221) commissioned them. According to legend, angels carried him to heaven when he was affected by a poison that his envious brother had administered; God sent him back to earth with instructions to build the churches and later dispatched angels to continue the work at night. Another account says that the king recruited Indian, Arab, and Egyptian builders, or even “white men” from Jerusalem, a link that is strengthened by the naming of the local river, Jordan. It has been suggested that, upon learning that the Holy City had fallen to Islam, Lalibela wanted to create a “new Jerusalem” in his secure mountain fastness. Tradition has it that the eleven buildings were completed in twenty-four years—archeologists calculate that would have needed 40,000 workers—but the time frame seems too short. Maskal Kabra, Lalibela’s queen, is said to have built one of them to his memory.

The churches stand in two groups flanking the Jordan. Four of them—Bet Medhane Alem, Bet Maryam, Bet Amanuel, and the cruciform Bet Ghiorghis, dedicated to Ethiopia’s patron saint—are in effect huge blocks of sculptured stone standing in deep excavated courtyards and attached to the rock only by their bases. Bet signifies “the house of.” They look like normal buildings, but each one is a single piece. The others must be accurately described as semimonolithic, because they remain attached to the rock by at least one face, whether the roof or walls. For example, although the twin churches of Bet Golgotha and Bet Qedus Mikael share a roof, they have, respectively, one and three facades exposed. Bet Abba Libanos is isolated from the mother rock except for its roof, which is integrated with the overhanging cliff; in front of it stands a large forecourt, cut from the tufa. The other churches are named Bet Danaghel, Bet Debre Sinai, Bet Gabriel-Rufa’el, Bet Merkorios, and Bet Meskel.