List of rock cut architecture and sculptures described by Wondermondo

Map of described rock-cut architecture

General description

Category includes outstanding rock cut architecture and large rock cut sculptures. In order to be included in this category landmarks should be made of single piece of natural stone without moving this material from its original place. Thus here are not included such unique monuments as Ahu Tongariki and other giant stone sculptures of Rapa Nui - they have been transported away from stone-pits.

Ajanta Caves - chaitya griha
Chaitya griha - great temple hewn in live rock in Ajanta Caves, India. Geri, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Resistivity and ancient art

Many monuments of rock-cut architecture are extremely durable due to high resistivity of rock. This resistivity and constant climate inside these structures have helped to preserve ancient art - such as the oldest known oil paintings in Bamyan Caves (Afghanistan) from 8th century AD or beautiful tempera paintings from 1st century BC in Ajanta Cave No.10 (India) and many other artworks. Inside the rock cut structures there have been preserved ancient sculptures - exceptional quality of artwork is seen in Elephanta Caves (5th - 8th c. AD) or, for example, in the unique Yali Mandapam (8th c. AD) near Mahabalipuram (both in India).


Rock cut architecture is very ancient form of architecture. Some of the oldest rock cut structures were tombs and dwellings.

Ancient structures

The unique Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni (Malta) was developed in natural caves, gradually extending them. This was done in 3800 - 2500 BC, thus it is a candidate to be the oldest rock cut structure of the world. Most ancient rock-cut tombs in Israel are approximately 5,000 years old, of similar age are rock cut structures in Southern Italy, Sardinia, Sicily. Outstanding monument is Dwarfie Stane in Orkney Islands, United Kingdom, which also is approximately 5,000 years old.

First large scale rock cut architecture was created in Ancient Egypt. One of the oldest might be the mysterious Great Sphinx of Giza which belongs to the most amazing creations of ancient people. Some consider that this giant sculpture might be created even in 2550 BC. In 13th century BC in Egypt there were created some of the most impressive examples of rock-cut architecture ever - like the rock cut tombs in Valley of Kings and Abu Simbel temples.

Hal Saflieni, Malta
Hal Saflieni, Malta.
Wikimedia Commons, user Hamelin de Guettelet
CC BY-SA 3.0

Very ancient rock-cut structures are located also in the Middle East. Amazing ancient city of Petra (Jordan) and rock-cut tombs of Mada'in Saleh (Saudi Arabia) were made in 6th century BC. Rock cut Lycian Tombs in Turkey were made in 4th century BC.

Southern Italy and Sicily contain some of the oldest rock cut structures in Europe. Sasso Caveoso (Italy) are rock-cut dwellings which might be even 9,000 years old (another candidate for world's oldest rock cut architecture). Rock cut tombs near Pantalica (Italy) have been created by ancient people of Sicily circa 13th - 7th century BC.

Buddhist temples and related structures

In India the magnificent tradition of rock-cut temples started circa 3rd century BC when Barabar Caves and Nagarjuni Caves (Bihar state) were built. Some of the most impressive rock cut structures ever were built in India until 8th century AD. Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves belong to the highest achievements of architecture and engineering of this period worldwide. In other countries of Southern Asia were created similar rock cut ensembles - beautiful examples are Bamyan Caves (Afganistan) and Dambulla Caves (Sri Lanka).

Another extreme example of rock cut architecture are the numerous rock cut temples in China. These ancient Buddhist temples and monasteries are amazing due to their high number, huge area of wall paintings and giant sculptures. Thus Longmen Grottoes (4th - 10th c. AD) include 2,345 (!) separate grottoes and contain more than 100,000 sculptures. Leshan Giant Buddha (713 - 803 AD) is a 71 m tall sculpture of Buddha.

Christian monasteries and churches

Unusual rock cut structures were created by early and medieval Christians. This was in part the secretive character of faith in the times of persecution and in part continuation of more ancient tradition of stone cut temples as a "direct link to supermundane". These structures have helped to preserve the impressive Christian art.

Great examples are the rock churches of Göreme (Turkey, 9 - 11th century AD), Vardzia Monastery (1185 AD) and David Gareja monasteries (since 6th century AD) (both in Georgia), Rock cut churches of Ivanovo (Bulgaria, since 13th century) and the unique Lalibela churches (Ethiopia, from 13th century).


Many catacombs are very old - in Near East underground passages in cities were built many thousand years ago. But construction of these underground structures flourished in the late Medieval Age and the beginning of modern times, when extensive networks of underground passages and rooms - catacombs were built under many cities of Europe and Near East. They developed as cheap mines of construction material, tombs, sewage systems and secret passages. Among the most amazing catacombs should be mentioned Znojmo Catacombs (Czech Republic), built as defensive system for whole city in 14th - 15th century, more than 400 km long Catacombs of Paris (France), eerie Catacombs of Palermo (Italy) and early medieval Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (Egypt), containing unique art values.

Miracles of modern engineering

Most rock cut structures created after 17th century are infrastructure objects like tunnels, mines, underground laboratories. These are the largest underground structures of the world, serving for civil, military and scientific interests. These structures have little or no value of art and architecture but represent amazing achievements of engineering. Some of the largest rock cut structures are CERN Large Hadron Collider (Switzerland and France) - exact 27 km long underground ring built for some of the most ambitious scientific experiments, as well as the 137 km long Delaware Aqueduct (United States) and 54 km long Seikan Tunnel (Japan).

Some types of rock cut architecture

  • Rock cut tombs. Built by diverse cultures around the world and in diferent time periods with the purpose to secure long lasting abode for the deceased. Example: KV5 tomb in Valley of the Kings (Egypt, 13th c. BC).
  • Rock cut temples and monasteries. Underground worship sites, built to facilitate religious contemplation. Most magnificent form of rock cut architecture. Example: Ajanta Caves (India, 2ns c. BC - 480 AD).
  • Rock cut dwellings and cities. Underground dwellings, often built in vertical cliff faces. Sften serve as shelters from the heat. Example: Matmâta (Tunisia, since Roman times).
  • Road, water and sewage tunnels. Linear structures serving for transport and shipment, built to cross mountains or waterbodies. Example: Seikan Tunnel (Japan, 1988).
  • Rock cut defense structures. For most part built as shelters for inhabitants for protection during the wartime, but often also as secret military laboratories and weapon storage sites. Example: Znojmo Catacombs (Czech Republic, 14th - 15th centuries AD).
  • Mines and pits. Built to obtain valuable underground materials. In few cases when the mining operations end, mines are accomodated for other needs. Example: Wieliczka Salt Mines (Poland).
  • Rock cut sculptures and reliefs. Sculptures and reliefs hewn out of live rock. Created in different times and diverse cultures. Development of such sculptures continues up to this day, especially in the United States. Example: Great Sphinx of Giza (Egypt, 2,550 BC).
Kailasanatha Temple - monolithic structure created in 460 - 480 AD. India.
Kunal Mukherjee, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Exceptional type of rock cut architecture is rock cut monolithic structures. These free-standing structures are hewn out of live rock and require very high skills from their creators. Venerable examples are Kailasanatha Temple in Ellora Caves and Pancha Rathas in Mahabalipuram (both in India), as well as Lalibela Churches in Ethiopia.

Outstanding rock cut architecture and sculptures

Here are selected some of the most surprising and interesting rock cut architecture and sculptures of the the world, arranged by the part of the world and in an alphabetic order.



Great Sphinx in Giza, Egypt
Great Sphinx in Giza, Egypt.
Cary Bass, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Other countries of Africa

Bete Giyorgis Church in Lalibela, Ethiopia
Bete Giyorgis Church in Lalibela, Ethiopia.
Giustino, Flickr / CC BY 2.0



Leshan Giant Buddha, China
Leshan Giant Buddha, China.
Bernt Rostad, Flickr / CC BY 2.0


Elephanta Caves, inside the Great Cave
Inside the Elephanta Caves.
vascoplanet, Vyacheslav Argenberg, Flickr / CC BY 2.0


Frescoe on the ceiling of Tokali Kilise church, Turkey
Frescoe on the ceiling of Tokali Kilise church, Turkey.
Andrea Ciambra Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Other countries of Asia

Al Khazneh in Petra, Jordan
Al Khazneh - treasury in Petra, Jordan.
vascoplanet, Vyacheslav Argenberg, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Australia and Oceania

Underground bookshop in Coober Pedy, Australia
Underground bookshop in Coober Pedy, Australia.
DuReMi, Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0



Other countries of Europe

Frescoes in Ivanovo rock cut church, Bulgaria
Frescoes in Ivanovo rock cut church, Bulgaria.
Klearchos Kapoutsis, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

North America

Mount Rushmore, United States
Mount Rushmore, United States.
Kurt Magoon Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0 22 August 2010 Gatis Pāvils

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