Architecture has been a part of every culture since ancient times. Mankind probably invented the art of having shelter and security, but we know there is and always has been more to that. This is very noticeable in the artifacts, paintings, carvings, sculptures, statues, caves, and structures from the past. Rock carvings are one of a kind. They are truly magnificent and extremely creative. Here’s is a list of 10 such incredible ancient structures carved out of solid rocks
1. Leshan Giant Buddha, China
Carved out of a cliff face of cretaceous red sandstones, The Leshan Giant Buddha is a 71-meter-tall stone statue symbolizing Maitreya, the future Buddha in Buddhist eschatology.
It was built in the period of the Tang Dynasty between 713 and 803 CE. The statue looks richer because two rivers, the Min and Dadu, meet below its feet near the city of Leshan located in the Sichuan Province of China.
The construction of the statue was initiated by a monk named Hai Tong. He believed that the Buddha would calm the rivers and stop them from destroying the ships traveling through them. The construction was completed by Tong’s disciples years after his death.
The site was subjected to degradation because of the pollution from the developing regions near it, but the government has promised to take responsibility for it.
The structure is the largest and tallest statue of Buddha and is also the tallest pre-modern statue in the world. The statue was listed as a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in 1996 along with the scenic area of Mount Emei that the statue faces. (1, 2)
2. Kailasa Temple, India
Kailasa Temple is one of the largest monolithic structures in the world carved out of a single rock. It is the 16th rock-cut temple and the largest one of all in the Ellora Caves that are spread out for two kilometers in Maharashtra, India.
It was built by Kannadiga kings of the Rashtrakuta Dynasty from 756 to 773 CE based on the epigraphs found. However, some parts of the temple were completed later by other dynasties, the Pallavas and Chalukyas.
The prominent feature of this temple lies in its architecture or the construction method. It is said that the temple is excavated vertically, i.e. the carvers started working on parent rock from the top and excavated downwards.
Archaeologists suggest that building such a temple should have taken approximately 100 years, but in reality, it was completed in just 18 years. Engineers of today find it impossible to achieve this feat using modern technology in such a short period of time.
The Kailasa Temple is known as “the climax of the rock-cut phase of Indian architecture,” and it is the most remarkable among all the cave temples around the globe due to its size, architecture style, and sculptural treatment. (1, 2)
3. Lalibela, Ethiopia
Lalibela is a religious and pilgrimage center known for its underground rock-cut monolithic churches carved out of solid granite rocks. There are 11 churches divided into four groups in the town of Lalibela which were built in the 12th and 13th centuries by the Zagwe Dynasty.
Each one of the 11 churches represents unique artistic achievements with additional work of drainage systems, trenches, multiple floors, etc.
The name of the town was once “Roha” and was changed to “Lalibela” when the monarch of the Zagwe Dynasty named “Lalibela” established the churches. It is situated in the Lasta District in the Amhara Region, Ethiopia.
The churches are completely constructed underground, and the carving was done top downward. Almost all churches have similar basic designs. The area was excavated in a rectangular shape around a solid huge granite block, and then work was done on the granite block externally and internally.
Lalibela is recognized as a holy city, and sometimes it is also referred to as “New Jerusalem.” Numbers of pilgrims gather during the important holy days and celebrations, and it is also a market center for people from Amhara. The place has been recognized as a World Heritage Center by UNESCO since 1978. (1, 2, 3)
4. Gomateshwara Statue, India
Dedicated to a revered Jain Lord figure named Bahubali, the Gomateshwara Statue is carved out of a single block of granite and is 57 feet tall. It is the tallest monolithic statue in the world and is located in Vindhyagiri in the state of Karnataka, India.
The statue stands on the top of the Vindhyagiri hill and is so tall that it is visible from 30 kilometers away. Visitors need to climb 614 steps to reach the top of the hill where the statue is.
A poet, commander, and minister named Chavundaraya commissioned the construction of the statue in 983 CE, and it became a significant pilgrimage center for Jains all over the world.
Devotees from around the world gather every 12 years to celebrate the festival called “Mahamastakabhisheka,” during which the statue is sprinkled with 1,008 vessels of water.
Then the statue is bathed with milk, a paste made from saffron flower, ghee, and sugarcane juice. After the ceremony, some devotees also offer gold and silver at the figure’s feet. The next celebration is going to be held in 2030.
5. Abu Simbel, Egypt
Abu Simbel is the site of two huge rock-cut temples on the western bank of the River Nile in Aswan Governorate, Egypt. The 66-foot-tall figures were built by King Pharaoh Ramses II to commemorate his victory at the battle of Kadesh.
There are two figures, both of them represent the king himself with small figures around their feet showing his children, queen, and mother. Just to the north of the main temple, there is another one with the 35-foot-tall statues of the king and his queen, Nefertari.
They were originally carved out of sandstone in the 13th century and were only rediscovered in 1913 by Swiss researcher John Burckhardt. They were explored in their entirety in 1968 by Polish archaeologist Kazimierz Michalowski.
The site was submerged underwater for years and was salvaged in 1960 from the rising waters of the Nile caused by the erection of the Aswan High Dam with the help of a complex engineering feat. (1, 2)