13 Impressive Rock Temples

No, this is not about Hard Rock stars, and their cribs – although, that would be an interesting list to go down on – pun intended. We’re here to admire rock-cut architecture and grand scale projects carved out of solid natural rock. These are the 13 most impressive rock temples and tombs; it may sound a bit horror, but it isn’t.

13. Lycian Tombs

Lycian Tombs

Lycia was an federation, located in today’s Turkish provinces of Antalya and Muğla. The Lycian tombs are elaborate funeral chambers, carved directly into the rock face and made to resemble the facade of timber Lycian houses. The rock-cut tombs of wealthy Lycians were finely worked, even decorated with reliefs depicting the specific features of the deceased; there’s definitely something to appreciate here.

12. Mada’in Saleh

Mada'in Saleh

Mada’in Saleh constitutes the Nabatean kingdom’s southernmost and largest settlement after Petra – the capital. Referred to as Hegra among the Nabateans, it was built around a residential zone and its oasis during the 1st century AD. Today, four necropolis areas have survived, which featured 131 monumental rock-cut tombs spread out over 13.4 km (8.3 mi).

11. Mogao Caves

Mogao Caves

The Mogao Caves form a system of 492 temples 25 km (15.5 miles) southeast of the center of Dunhuang, an oasis located at a crossroads on the Silk Road. The caves feature fine examples of Buddhist art, about 1,000 years worth. The Buddhist cave shrines were meant to store scriptures and art, and they are one of the three most famous ancient rock-cut temples in China.

10. Longmen Grottoes

Longmen Grottoes

The Longmen Grottoes can be found along the Xiangshan and Longmenshan mountains, eastern China. There are over 2100 niches, more than 100,000 statues, some 40 pagodas and 3600 tablets. They open to the public, and although the grottoes cannot be entered most of the artwork can be seen from the exterior.

9. Yungang Grottoes

Yungang Grottoes

The Yungang Grottoes are ancient Buddhist temple grottoes in the Chinese province of Shanxi. They were mainly constructed in the period between 460-525 AD, during the Northern Wei dynasty: 252 grottoes with more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes. An incredible example of Chinese history and culture.

8. Churches of Goreme

Churches of Goreme

After a volcanic eruption about 2000 years ago, lava formed soft rocks in the Cappadocia Region, in Turkey. Wind and water took care of the erosion, but the hard cap rock on top of pillars remained, resulting in these fairy chimneys. People of Göreme, at the heart of the Cappadocia Region, were quick at carving out houses, churches and monasteries. These Christian sanctuaries contain many examples of Byzantine frescoes and represent a unique artistic representation.

7. Lalibela Churches

Lalibela Churches

Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, second only to Aksum. This center of pilgrimage is a rural town, known around the world for its monolithic churches which play an important part in the history of rock-cut architecture. No one knows for sure, but most are thought to have been built during the 12th and 13th centuries by a medieval Ethiopian civilization. The Church of St. George is the most well known and last built of the eleven churches.

6. Ajanta Caves

Ajanta Caves

The Ajanta Caves are found in the Indian state of Maharashtra; the rock-cut cave monuments date back to the 2th century BC. The monastic complex of Ajanta consists of several viharas – monastic halls of residence – and chaitya-grihas – stupa monument halls. But by 480 AD the caves at Ajanta were abandoned, until 1819 when they were rediscovered by a British officer.

5. Ellora Caves

Ellora Caves

The Ellora Caves are located 30 km (19 mi) from the city of Aurangabad in India. There are 34 Buddhist, Hindu and Jain rock cut temples and monasteries, built between the 5th century and 10th century. The Buddhist caves were the earliest structures, and they included multi-storey buildings carved into the mountain face, living quarters, sleeping quarters, kitchens, and other rooms. The Kailasa Temple is the unrivaled centerpiece of Ellora; it was carved out of one single rock, and covers an area double the size of Parthenon in Athens.

4. Valley of the Queens

Valley of the Queens

The Valley of the Queens is a place in Egypt where wives of Pharaohs were buried in ancient times. Located near the better known Valley of the Kings, on the west bank of the Nile across from Thebes, this barren area was chosen due to its relative isolation and proximity to the ancient Egyptian capital. The necropolis holds more than 70 rock-cut tombs, most of which were beautifully decorated.

3. Valley of the Kings

Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings is a valley in Egypt where, for a period of nearly 500 years kings and privileged nobles of the New Kingdom were buried. The valley contains 63 tombs and chambers, from a simple pit to a complex tomb with over 120 chambers. The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and funerary rituals of the period.

2. Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel is an archaeological site where two massive rock-cut temples in southern Egypt will impress anyone. The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses The Great, in the 13th century BC. Oddly enough, the complex was relocated in its entirety in the 1960s to avoid their being submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser artificial water reservoir. Abu Simbel remains one of Egypt’s top tourist attractions.

1. Petra


Petra was the ancient capital of the Nabataean kingdom and currently is Jordan’s most valuable treasure and greatest tourist attraction. The vast, unique city was carved into the side of the Wadi Musa Canyon centuries ago; but, the most elaborate building in Petra is Al Khazneh (“The Treasury”‎), carved out of a sandstone rock face.

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