Around the World in 80 Models: Lalibela

Back to overview

Hop on board as we continue our journey Around the World in 80 Models! We began our itinerary at Sketchfab headquarters in New York and are working our way through Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania, South America, and North America. To catch up on past destinations, check out the rest of the Around the World in 80 Models series.

This week we head to Ethiopia, where the Zamani Project shows us how they have laser scanned some spectacular 12th and 13th century rock-cut churches.

Lalibela, Ethiopia: Beta Giorgis

The Zamani project is a research group based in the Geomatics Division of the University of Cape Town, South Africa. The project was started in 2004 with the aim of spatially documenting African heritage sites for conservation and restoration interventions, for education and research, to increase awareness of Africa’s heritage and as a record for future generations. To date some 200 structures from over 60 sites have been recorded in 15 countries. The spatial data captured on site is processed to create textured (where possible) 3D models, site GISs, 360 degree panorama image tours and other spatial materials.

The Zamani team uses a variety of laser scanners to capture 3D data of a site; the first projects were executed with a Leica HDS3000 scanner while recent work was mainly done with a Z+F 5010C scanner. Software to process the data is largely in-house, developed by UCT students and the Zamani project. Structure-from-Motion photography and photographic panoramas and panorama tours are employed to complement the scanning.



Lalibela, Ethiopia, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that consists of 13 rock-hewn churches in three church groupings. Lalibela was built as a symbolic representation of Jerusalem by King Lalibela in the 12th Century. The churches are now threatened by aging, weathering, and man-made phenomena. Lalibela is still in active use today and remains one of the most important Ethiopian pilgrimage sites. In January, during Timkat, a holy celebration in Ethiopia, it attracts large numbers of pilgrims, who celebrate the Baptism of Jesus in the historical and holy city of Lalibela.


The Zamani Project was asked to document the churches using laser scanning, GPS surveys and photogrammetry for the World Monuments Fund for conservation projects and to serve as a record for the future. During field campaigns in 2005, 2006 and 2008 over 1200 scans were captured of Lalibela using a variety of laser scanners. These scans not only captured the 13 churches but also the trenches surrounding the church groups, much of the terrain in between the groups and the underground tunnels that connect the churches together. Registration of the scans proved to be very challenging, but was accomplished with satisfactory results as can be seen in Figure 1.

Lalibela, Ethiopia: Beta Emanuel

Included in this documentation of Lalibela was Beta Giorgis and Beta Emanuel. Beta Emanuel belongs to the Eastern group of churches whereas Beta Giorgis sits on its own approximately half a kilometer west of Beta Emanuel.

Beta Giorgis, considered the most famous of the churches of Lalibela, is carved out of limestone rock and is the most recently built church – it dates to the 12th or 13th century. It sits inside a deep trench and can only be accessed by a tunnel that leads down into the trench. Caves and chambers in the walls that surround the church contain the remains of pilgrims.

Beta Emanuel, in the Eastern group of churches, is accessible by a 35m underground dark tunnel. It is double story with a spiral staircase leading to the upper floor. It is admired for its very intricate ornamentation on its outer facades.

To see more of the Zamani Project’s models here on Sketchfab, check out their profile!

About the author

Abby & Néstor

Abby and Néstor are Sketchfab Masters.
Abby Crawford, Ph.D. is trained in and passionate about Roman Archaeology and works as a freelance artifact illustrator and 3D scanner in California.
Néstor F. Marqués is a virtual Heritage & cultural diffusion researcher, and an enthusiast of ancient Rome’s culture.

No Comments

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    "Post comment" will create a new comment that can be read by anyone who visits this website and has access to this topic. Do not include sensitive data like IDs, credentials, or non-public information.

    To remove a comment, contact the Sketchfab Community Team.

    Related articles