Favourite rock-cut architecture


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? 

Here are some of my favourite rock-cut architecture sites of the world.


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. In total over two hundred thousand tonnes of rock was whittled from the hillside to create this one monument.

Kailasa Temple, Ellora Caves, India

Kailasa Temple, India. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit


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. What you can see sparkles in the sun.

It looks too fantastic to be true.

First glimpse of Al Khazneh, Petra, Jordan

First glimpse of Al Khazneh, Jordan. Photo credit: Benjamin White


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. But I could never really make sense of it. The images I’d seen featured a bunch of holes in the ground, and in each of those holes: a church.

What was the point of that?

Biete Giyorgis, Lalibela, Ethiopia

Biete Giyorgis, Lalibela, Ethiopia. Photo credit: Benjamin White


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.

The tomb, cruciform in shape, has such clean-cut edges it appears to have been stamped out of the cliff by a giant hole punch. It’s unearthly.

Naqsh-e Rustam, Iran

Photo credit: Benjamin White


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

The Lycian tombs, Fethiye, Turkey. Photo credit: Amrita Ronnachit


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


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


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

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