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10 Incredible Ancient Structures Carved Out of Solid Rock

6. Longmen Grottoes, China

Longmen grottoes
Image credits: Bule Sky Studio/Shutterstock.com

Longmen Grottoes are an impressive collection of tens of thousands of rock-carved statues of Shakyamuni Buddha. These are considered the largest and the finest examples of Chinese Buddhist art of the late Northern Wei and Tang dynasties.

Two thousand three hundred caves contain 110,000 stone statues, 60 stupas, and 2,800 inscriptions carved on steles. All of them are carved out of limestone cliffs, and they are stretch out to over one kilometer. All of them were worked upon from the 5th century to the mid-8th century. Thirty percent of them were created by the Northern Wei and 60% by the Tang dynasty.

Longmen Grottoes
Longmen Grottoes

The caves are located on both sides of the river Yi, 12 kilometers away from the Luoyang in Henan Province, China.

Since 2000, the site has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the World Heritage Sites with the praise that these caves are an “outstanding manifestation of human artistic creativity.”

They show the perfection of a long-established art form that helped in cultural evolution in this region of Asia, and they also capture the cultural sophistication of the Tang Dynasty. (1, 2)

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7. Al-Khazneh, Jordan

Al-Khazneh
Al-Khazneh

The Petra City of Jordan has many temples and Al-Khazneh stands to be the most elaborated one. Most of the temples, monasteries, and buildings including Al-Khazneh, are carved out of sandstone rock face.

Al-Khazneh
Al-Khazneh

The structure is originally believed to have been built as a mausoleum or a burial chamber of the Nabatean king Aretas IV in the 1st century CE. “Al-khazneh” means “treasury” in Arabic, and it was only during the 19th century that it got that name when local Bedouins believed that it contained treasure.

The main source of income is from tourism in Jordan, and this site and the town of Petra are some of the most frequently visited places by tourists. The entire town of Petra was unknown to the world before Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt rediscovered it in 1812.

As more and more people started visiting the ancient sites, it entirely changed the social and economic structure of the city and the country. (source)

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8. Mogao Caves, China

Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China
Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China

Mogao caves are a collection of 500 temples and 2,000 painted sculptures that are examples of rock-cut architecture carved out of the cliff with soft gravel conglomerates. The site is famous for its statues and wall paintings that capture 1,000 years of Buddhist art.

Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China
Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China. Image credits: THONGCHAI.S/Shutterstock.com

The caves are located on a strategic point along the Silk Route, 25 kilometers southeast of Dunhuang in Gansu Province, China. The caves are also known by other names such as “Thousand Buddha Grottoes,” “Caves of Thousand Buddhas,” and “Dunhuang Caves.” They were dug originally as a place for Buddhist meditation and worship, and the construction dates back to 366 CE.

This place has been on the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites since 1987 with the description that the caves represent unique artistic achievement and provide strong witness to the civilization of ancient Chinese dynasties, namely the Sui, Tang, and Song Dynasties, and they helped in influencing the ideas of Buddhism in Asia.

The structures are under top-level protection along with the other World Heritage Sites in China. (1, 2)

9. Lycia, Turkey

Lycia
Lycia

Lycia is a geopolitical region in the province of Antalya on the southern coast of Turkey that has tombs carved out of the side of the mountains. On the outside, the tombs look like entrances to a number of temples but are actually Lycian tombs.

Rock-cut tombs in Myra Ancient City of Lycia
Rock-cut tombs in the Myra Ancient City of Lycia.

The tombs were carved out in the cliffs nearly in the 4th century. They have many facades to enter with tall classic columns and intricate reliefs.

The reason for the construction lies in the legends of ancient locals of Lycia that believed that the deceased were carried to the afterlife by some magic winged creatures, so they decided to make tombs at places of high altitude like cliffs to place their dead ones.

The tombs have become a bit duller because of the weathering they have been facing for centuries, but their interior is still intact with chambers and rooms. (1, 2)

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10. Sassi di Matera, Italy

Sassi di Matera
Sassi di Matera

The Sassi di Matera is the central area of the city of Matera where people still live in the cave houses and have been living since the Palaeolithic period. Matera City is in Basilicata, Italy. The caves do not just provide cozy shelter to the people, but people have transformed these structures into boutiques, restaurants, jazz clubs, spas, and even the most affluent buildings.

Sassi di Matera
Sassi di Matera

Until the 1950s, Matera was a huge embarrassment to Italy because it was one of the poorest places in the country. There was no effective plumbing system, and it was saturated with diseases. The government even planned to destroy the city with dynamite, and the residents were asked to leave the place.

Sassi di Matera
Interior of an old cave house carved into the tufa rock in the old town (Sassi di Matera)

However, the plan was called off when scholars found out a secret, 9th-century monastery named the “Crypt of Original Sin” based on which it was realized that people had been living in this place since very ancient times, at least from 7,000 BCE.

After that, people moved back into the caves, and the place was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. The neighborhood is pretty difficult to reach which makes it a little exclusive, but it is indeed one of the favorite tourist destinations. (1, 2, 3)

Also read: 15 of the Strangest Geological Formations

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