Rock-Cut Architecture of the Ancient World

rock-cut-architecture (Image: andihefti, cc-sa-3.0)

The ancient world abounds with incredible rock-cut architecture, structures such as dwellings, tombs and temples, which have been carved out of solid rock (as opposed to extensions of natural caves). Their facades and internal layout reflect the architectural styles of their ancient builders, while some spectacular examples of rock-cut architecture are monolithic formations crafted from one  piece of material.



petra (Image: SchubbayBernard Gagnoncc-sa-3.0Teo Gomez, public domain)

Many ancient examples of rock-cut architecture, such as the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, were carved over the course of tens or hundreds of years using chisels. It’s presumed that the excavated stone was removed and reused elsewhere.


Pancha-Rathas-2 (Images: Destination8infinityVenu62cc-sa-3.0)

The long timescales involved in constructing these spectacles sometimes led to buildings not being completed. Five beautiful freestanding rock-cut monoliths carved around 600 AD at Pancha Rathas in Tamil Nadu, India, are one such example.


lalibela-monolithic-churches-2 (Images: Jialiang Gaocc-sa-3.0; Guistino, cc-3.0)

The earliest known notable rock-cut structure is probably the Hypogeum of Paola, Malta, which was built around 3000 BC and discovered by workmen in 1902. The eleven monolithic churches in Lalibela, Ethiopia, are thought to be the latest relevant works of rock-cut architecture, built around 1100 AD.

Kailashnath-Temple-Ellora (Images: Pratheepps; Sanjay ach; Sanjay Acharya; cc-sa-3.0; Danial Chitnis, cc-3.0)

The Kailashnath Temple is an enormous monolith, which was carved from the top down and can be found among many other rock-cut temples, shrines and ornamental pillars at the Ellora Caves in India, dating from 400-900 AD. This massive complex also includes the Buddhist ‘carpenters cave,’ which is home to a giant seated Buddha, not unlike those found in the Chinese Longmen Grottoes.


cappadocia-rock-architecture (Images: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen; Schubbaycc-sa-3.0)

While many ancient civilisations created rock architecture, Cappadocia in Turkey is one exceptional historic location that boasts rock houses, underground cities, fairy chimneys and enchanting anthill-like cityscapes that are still occupied today.

Keep reading – visit the Ancient Rock-Cut Tombs of Myra’s Lycian Necropolis and other amazing Rock-Cut Tombs of the Middle East.



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