Magnificent Ancient Buildings Hewn From Living Rock

January 18, 2018

From towering temples to artistic tombs, humans have been carving structures from cliff faces and mountainsides for thousands of years.

It’s human nature to modify our natural surroundings, but it's hard to believe that a simple tweak to a humble cave tens of thousands of years ago may have led to our eternal fascination with rock-cut architecture.

Hewn from living rock (that is, rock that remains part of a natural geologic feature such as a cliff or outcropping), many of these man-made structures have survived the test of time and remain objects of beauty and wonder in our modern world. Whether it’s the colossal Temple of Ramses II in Egypt or the modest monk cells of Cappadocia’s “fairy chimneys,” these buildings all have one thing in common: they were built in times of an endless supply of cheap—or even unpaid—labor.


1PETRA, JORDANW


PETRA, JORDANWith an elaborate facade towering more than 150 feet above the desert, Petra's mountaintop "Monastery" was most likely a temple built in the first century B.C.


2LALIBELA, ETHIOPIA

LALIBELA, ETHIOPIA The World Heritage Site of Lalibela is famed for its striking churches, hewn from the surrounding rock some 800 years ago.




3CAPPADOCIA, TURKEY

CAPPADOCIA, TURKEY Stunning rock formations known as "fairy chimneys" are pocked with caves carved in the early centuries of Christianity to serve as monastic cells

4ABU SIMBEL, EGYPTEGYPT

ABU SIMBEL, EGYPT The 3,200-year-old colossal Temple of Ramses II was carved from a cliffside by the order of the pharaoh. The seated depictions of Ramses II are nearly 70 feet high.

5ELLORA, INDIA

ELLORA, INDIA Stonemasons took decades to carve the detail-rich Kailasa temple in the 8th century A.D. It is the world's largest structure hewn from a single rock.




6MADA'IN SALEH, SAUDI ARABIA

MADA'IN SALEH, SAUDI ARABIA The tombs of Mada'in Saleh were carved into the sandstone mountains of the Arabian desert some 2,000 years ago. They were built by the Nabateans, traders who also created the stunning rock-hewn monuments of Petra in Jordan.

7DEMRE, TURKEY

DEMRE, TURKEY Intended as elaborate houses for the afterlife, the tombs of the Myra necropolis were carved by the Lycians, an ancient people influenced by both Greece and the Near East thousands of years ago.

8MAHABALIPURAM, INDIA

MAHABALIPURAM, INDIA The monuments of the Pancha Rathas complex in southern India were hewn from single slabs of granite 1,300 years ago. Stone versions of earlier wooden temples, these structures were never consecrated













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