Lalibela is built upon an ancient volcanic crater. Churches were literally excavated from the lava rock.
Lalibela is also over 7200 feet or more in elevation. I was huffing and puffing just walking around the area. It was a little embarrassing to see very old widows having no problem scurrying up the hills!
Our tour guide told us that King (and Monk, I believe) Lalibela, around the 11th century, decided to construct a "New Jerusalem" for his people. He had traveled to Jerusalem and was completely taken-a-back by its beauty; King Lalibela commanded his people to start digging... and carving... and digging. He wanted desperately for his people to have a "Holy Land" of their own, so that they would not need to make the long and arduous journey to the Middle East. Lalibela took over 20 years to construct. Most structures are in fairly good condition, thanks to international organizations that maintain the structures and the grounds.