Gebre Mesqel Lalibela was a great king of the Zagwe dynasty whose reign lasted forty years, spanning the end of the 12th century and the opening decades of the 13th. According the a well-known fable, a swarm of bees surrounded the infant Lalibela at his birth, a sign which his mother took to be a portent of his long and prosperous reign as king.
Indeed, his reign was fruitful, and the name Lalibela means "the bees obey him."
Lalibela's greatest achievement undoubtedly lies in the eleven monolithic churches he constructed in his new capital city. The cultural and religious hub, which bears his name to this day, is modeled after Jerusalem.
In a vision, King Lalibela saw that he was to build a new Jerusalem after the old Jerusalem was besieged by Saladin in 1187.
The new city was to be located at the site of the present-day town of Lalibela and to be made the Zagwe dynasty's new capital.
It is said that King Lalibela built ten of the churches, and his wife built the eleventh one in his honor.
A pious man an lifelong devotee of the church, he was made a saint by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church after his death.
Lalibela's incredible rock-hewn churches are a UNESCO World Heritage Site today and are a major pilgrimage destination for the Ethiopian church.