ISOLP’s Top 10 Rock-cut Architecture Creations


Rock-cut architecture fascinates me. It’s the effort involved; it’s unimaginable. I can stand and look at a rock-cut architecture site, such al-Khazneh in Jordan, or Naqsh-e Rustam in Iran, or Lalibela in Ethiopia, for hours on end and feel breathless the entire time and never want to leave.

Perhaps my ancestors were troglodytes? 


Rock-cut architecture Creation #1

Kailasa Temple, Ellora Caves, India

Kailasa Temple was not built from the ground up; it was excavated into being, a feat that took seven generations of workers to complete.

Kailasa Temple, Ellora Caves, India

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit


Rock-cut architecture Creation #2

Al-Khazneh, Petra, Jordan

The image of Al Khazneh dances before your eyes, just a sliver of the whole, the rest hidden behind a million tonnes of rock.

First glimpse of Al Khazneh, Petra, Jordan

Photo credit: Benjamin White


Rock-cut architecturCreation #3

Naqsh-e Rustam, Iran

The Achaemenids selected a stark cliff, one that rears up from the desert at an almost vertical angle, and embedded in it, at an impractical height, a tomb worthy of the mightiest kings.

Naqsh-e Rustam, Iran

Photo credit: Benjamin White


Rock-cut architecture Creation #4

The rock-cut churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia

I’d seen pictures of the famous, cryptic, rock-cut churches of Lalibela before. In fact Lalibela was one of the main draw-cards of Ethiopia for me.

Biete Giyorgis, Lalibela, Ethiopia

Photo credit: Benjamin White


Rock-cut architecture Creation #5

Rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania

One day, many years ago, I came upon a picture of the rock sculpture of King Decebalus, on the banks of the Danube River, in southwestern Romania; it took just a nanosecond to determine that I wished to visit the site in person.

Rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania

The rock sculpture of Decebalus, Romania. Photo credit: Benjamin White


Rock-cut architecture Creation #6

Ad Deir, Petra, Jordan

The Monastery, also known as Ad Deir (Arabic for the monastery) wasn’t really a monastery; it was a temple dedicated to Nabataean king Obodas I.

Ad Deir, Petra, Jordan

Ad Deir, Petra, Jordan. Photo credit: Benjamin White


Rock-cut architecture Creation #7

Lycian tombs, Fethiye, Turkey

The main reason I wanted to visit Fethiye wasn’t to sit on pebble beaches, nor to gorge on blood pudding and bangers and mash. I wanted to see the Lycian tombs.

Lycian tombs, Fethiye, Turkey

Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit


Rock-cut architecture Creation #8

Vardzia, Georgia

Take a hard hat. That would be my tip for your visit to Vardzia, Georgia. The site is crumbling and unstable. Several times while I was there I saw and heard rocks tumbling down the cliff.

Vardzia, Georgia

The cave city of Vardzia, Georgia. Photo credit: Benjamin White


Rock-cut architecture Creation #9

Bisotun, Iran – cliff inscription of Darius the Great

I was giving the lower slopes of Mount Bisotun a good eyeballing as I approached, hoping vainly to espy the famous cliff inscriptions of Darius I from afar.

Statue of Herakles, Bisotun, Iram

The Statue of Herakles (Hercules), Bisotun, Iran. Photo credit: Benjamin White


Rock-cut architecture Creation #10

Sea Stone Hotel, Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh

Who said living in a separatist-controlled unrecognised republic can’t be fun?

Lion carving, Seastone Hotel, Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh

The lion sculpture at Sea Stone Hotel, Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh. Photo credit: Benjamin White






Rock-cut architecture Creation: notable mentions

The Moai Quarry, Easter Island

When most people think of Easter Island they’re likely to think of giant stone heads. And that’s fair enough; there are a thousand or so moai (as the giant stone heads are known – pronounced mwai) on the island.

Moai, the Moai Quarry, Easter Island, Chile

The Moai Quarry, Easter Island. Photo credit: Benjamin White


The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, Colombia

The salt mines of Zipaquirá, Colombia, have been worked since the 5th Century BCE. Salt was a highly prized trade item for the pre-Colombian Muisca people, and on occasion it was even traded for emeralds.

Zipaquira Salt Cathedral, Colombia

Zipaquira Salt Cathedral, Colombia. Photo credits: Amrita Ronnachit


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