Rock-cut architecture  

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Rock-cut architecture is the creation of structures like buildings by excavating solid rock where it naturally occurs. In India the term 'cave' is often applied, and in China 'cavern,' but one must differentiate natural caves, even if tidied and extended by man, from rock-cut architecture which is wholly man-made and so in every respect a part of architecture and its history. Though rock-cut architecture differs from traditional architecture in many obvious ways, many rock-cut structures are often made to replicate traditional architectural forms in the facades and even in their interiors. The interiors were usually carved out by starting at the roof of the planned space and then working downward, for the obvious reason that stones would not be falling on one's head. The three main uses of rock-cut architecture were temples (like those in India), tombs (like those in Petra, Jordan) and cave dwellings (like those in Cappadocia, Turkey).

Some rock-cut architecture, mostly for tombs, is excavated entirely in chambers under the surface of relatively level rock. If the excavation is instead made into the side of a cliff or steep slope there can be an impressive facade, as found in Lycian tombs, Petra, Ajanta and elsewhere. The most laborious and impressive rock-cut architecture is the excavation of tall free-standing monolithic structures entirely below the surface level of the surrounding rock, in a large excavated hole around the structure. Ellora in India and Lalibela in Ethiopia provide the most spectacular and famous examples of such structures.

Rock-cut architecture, though intensely laborious with ancient tools and methods, was presumably combined with quarrying the rock for use elsewhere; the huge amounts of stone removed have normally vanished from the site. Rock-cut architecture is also said to be cut, hewn, etc., "from the living rock". Another term sometimes associated with rock-cut architecture is monolithic architecture, which is rather applied to free-standing structures made of a single piece of material. Monolithic architecture is often rock-cut architecture (e.g. Ellora Kailasanathar Temple) but monolithic structures might be also cast of artificial material, e.g. concrete.

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