Ancient buildings carve from stone

in Architecture+Design2 months ago


I love watching documentaries on ancient heritage, architecture, and technology. I am amazed at the masterpieces our ancestors created without the pieces of machinery we have today. We still don't know how they build these structures, and we are continually looking for this lost technology. Even in ancient times, it is natural for us to modify our environment to make it efficient, aesthetically appealing, or profitable. One architectural marvel makes us wonder how ingenious our ancestor is the original architecture cut out from living rock. We called it rock-cut architecture.

Rock-cut architecture is structures excavated on solid rock as opposed to naturally occurring caves and caverns. Our ancestors practically formed these buildings by excavating tunnels and caves through rock rather than bringing the materials for the buildings. Rock-cut architecture has a different approach in building these structures, but it mimics the façade and interiors of the traditional ones. Our ancestors carved out the interiors from the roof and down to the planned space. It prevents workers from falling debris while constructing the structures.

Our ancestors built rock-cut architectures to serve as temples, tombs, and cave dwellings. They carved out most tombs from leveled rocks while those with an impressive façade carved from the side of a cliff. Building rock-cut architecture is a laborious endeavor. It needs ancient tools and methods, which possibly combines quarrying the rock. One of the arduous and impressive builds is carving out below the rock surface with a large hole surrounding it. Here are three remarkable dwellings, temples and tombs around the world hewn from stone in the world.

Petra's Al-Kazneh

One of the most famous rock-cut architecture is Petra's Al-Khazneh ("The Treasury"), which Nabateans built around 213 BC. It is an archaeological site in the Jordanian city of Petra, which is along the trade routes and touted to be hundreds of years. They sculpted the facades directly into the cliff with vibrant red, white, and pink sandstone.

image.png The Petra's Al-Khazneh with Tourist (image credit)

In the early 1800s, a European traveler mixed Bedouin costumes with the locale to locate the city, which was empty and near ruin for centuries before rediscovery. We can see the structure amid the rugged desert of canyons encircled by mountains at the modern-day Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It is the center of trades during the Nabataean empire between 400 B.C. and A.D. 106.

The Façade of Petra's Al-Khazneh (image credit)

The Treasury is a royal tomb with an alluring façade, but a relatively small hall. It has a giant urn carved above the entrance, which bears the hundreds of gunshots. Bedouin tribesmen caused damage in the façade due to open firing with rifles to loot the inside the urn, a solid stone. To date, we can see a mix between Nabataean and Greco-Roman architectural styles in the tombs. Unfortunately, thieves looted it, and archaeological treasures were thus lost.

Churches of Lalibela

It is a cross-shaped church carved out of a tufa limestone in the Amhara region of Ethiopia between the late 12th century or early 13th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site aside from a pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Orthodox. Hence they are cut from relatively fragile, porous volcanic rock; a few churches are in danger of disintegrating due to natural weathering. The locals reinforced it with scaffolding to support a corrugated iron roof canopy. It ruins the aesthetic values but necessary to preserve the structure.

An aerial view of the church of Biete Ghiorgis (image credit)

Lalibela has 11 medieval monolithic cave churches situated in a mountainous region in Ethiopia, which is near the locals with a traditional village with circular-shaped dwellings. They deemed it to be a new Jerusalem. Besides, it is a high place of Ethiopian Christianity, which still holds true to date as it is a pilgrimage site.

The church of Biete Ghiorgis (image credit)

The ancient Ethiopians constructed the churches hewn from the living rock of monolithic blocks. They chiseled out blocks to form doors, windows, columns, various floors, and roofs. It has extensive drainage ditches, trenches, and ceremonial passages, some with openings to hermit caves and catacombs. Several churches' interiors have mural paintings.

Kailasa Temple, Ellora

It has 34 monasteries and temples that extend over more than 2 km. They carve it through a high basalt cliff by digging side by side in the wall. We can locate it in Maharashtra. Ellora, which existed since 600 AD. It touted to bring Indian civilization to life. It has an architectural style influenced by unique artistic creation and a technological exploit of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. It illustrates the spirit of tolerance, which is a prime characteristic of ancient India.

The Sculptures at the Kailasa Temple (image credit)

The Vimana of the Temple (image credit)

We can say that the architecture of Kailasa Temple is remarkable. It has a Gopuram which is the monumental tower located at the entrance that leads to the courtyard. It has a dedicated pavilion for Lord Shiva's sacred bull Nandi, which they called Nandi Mandapa. Furthermore, a Gudh Mandapa which is a close sacred hall contains the shrine of Shiva. The Kailasa Temple has a main shrine divided into two parts: the Adhisthana in the upper part while Upapitha at the lower, which has large sculpted elephants. A rock bridge joins the Nandi Mandapa to the porch of the temple.

The carvings at Kailasa Temple (image credit)

Sculptures at the Kailasa Temple. (image credit)

The Kalisa Temple has beautiful and intricate sculptures on the walls. It depicts deities of Hindu Mythology and scenes from Purana, Ramayana, and Mahabharata. Besides, it has a well-defined carve as a sculptor that shows the craftsmanship of the ancient Indians. They have chiseled the rocks for decades and softened the edges of the rocks to give them shape and form. It leaves us a jaw-dropping experience and leaves an indelible impression of the past.

Final Thoughts

Again, our ancestors built rock-cut architectures to serve as temples, tombs, and cave dwellings. They carved out jaw-dropping masterpieces out of cliffs and stones. They showcased an impressive façade and structure that withstand the test of time. However, building rock-cut architecture is a laborious endeavor that may take a huge number of labor hours. Rock-cut architecture is a remarkable feat by the ancient people without the pieces of machinery we have today.

Note: The cover image is created by the author using Canva.


  1. Petra, Jordan. The "Lost City" still has secrets to reveal: Thousands of years ago, the now-abandoned city of Petra was thriving.
  2. View the Incredible 900-Year-Old Rock-Hewn Churches of Ethiopia
  3. This Enormous 8th Century Temple in India Was Carved from One Rock

These typical rock cut architecture is one of it's kind and I am till date amazed by how can our ancestors dig in so deep and carve out such beautiful structures.
Wonderful post, have a lovely week:)

The thought of how our ancestors was able to build it keeps me wonder of what technology and if we can retrieve such technology.

It's amazing how creative our ancestors were. I was able to visit and experience Petra. The gorge and the walk to this rock-carved city are impressive. The treasury is a small room but the craftsmanship throughout this lost city is remarkable.

Hi @juecoree! Ancient buildings have truly opened our eyes to the marvels of architecture from our history! Well done for being part of Architecture Brew #23!


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Thanks for the support, @aplusd!

The workmanship is absolutely stunning and I love this form of buildings. I always wonder how long it would have taken to build such a building out of Stone and chisle. Hot weather and high climbs. Amazing and I'd love to visit one day.

These buildings are really amazing, and the mysteries of how it was constructed put more hype to it. We must have known how it was constructed using the ancient text, but unfortunately several ancient text are gone due to looting.

Thats so sad, looting is such a shame and so much history lost because of it.