You're Going to Dig This Ancient, Rock-Cut Architecture

The famous rock-cut architecture of Petra, Jordan. (Photo: Kanuman/Shutterstock)

If you ever find yourself questioning the ingenuity and power of ancient civilizations, take a moment to consider the impressive, man-made wonders of rock-cut architecture. This type of building practice involves humans excavating solid rock to form tunnels or caverns — as opposed to creating a standalone structure made of materials brought in from elsewhere.

Petra's Al-Khazneh ("The Treasury") is one of the most famous examples of rock-cut architecture. This gorgeous archaeological site is Jordan's most popular tourist attraction, and one that has made cameos in a variety of popular media, most notably in the 1989 film, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." The building of Petra's iconic structures began as early as 213 B.C. by a society of nomadic, pre-Islamic Arabs known as the Nabateans. Situated along several major trade routes, the city served as a pivotal trading hub in the region.

Petra isn't the only shining example of ancient rock-cut architecture. Here are just a few other remarkable dwellings, temples and tombs around the world hewn from stone.

Mesa Verde cliff dwellings — Colorado

Mesa Verde cliff dwellings in southwest Colorado. (Photo: MarclSchauer/Shutterstock)

Nestled in a picturesque canyon within Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park, these intricate dwellings were built in the 12th century by the Ancestral Puebloan people. While it certainly looks like an idyllic place to live, the dwellers were forced to desert the settlement sometime in 13th century due to decades of drought.

Uchisar — Cappadocia, Turkey

Uchisar in Cappadocia, Turkey. (Photo: Nejdet Duzen/Shutterstock)

When life gives you fairy chimneys, make homes out of them! That's what the ancient people of Cappadocia concluded when they happened upon the region's craggy, hoodoo-filled landscape. Today, these unique rock-cut dwelling are one of central Turkey's most popular destinations.

Ellora Caves — Maharashtra, India

Ellora Caves' Kailas Temple in Maharashtra, India. (Photo: Alexander Mazurkevich/Shutterstock)

The Ellora Caves are an exquisite archaeological site featuring a collection of 34 temple "caves" built by followers of various Indian faiths. The rock-cut structures were built between the 6th and 9th centuries, and vary by faith — there are 17 Hindu caves, 12 Buddhist caves and five Jain caves.

Lycian tombs — Mugla, Turkey

Lycian tombs in Mugla, Turkey. (Photo: Sergey Shcherbakoff/Shutterstock)

Embedded into the steep cliff faces, these rock-cut tombs date back to the 4th century. The ancient Lycians laid their dead here because, as Atlas Obscura explains, they "believed that their dead were carried to the afterlife by magic winged creatures and thus they placed their honored dead in geographically high places."

Church of Saint George — Lalibela, Ethiopia

Church of Saint George in Lalibela, Ethiopia. (Photo: Dmitry Chulov/Shutterstock)

Also known as "Bete Giyorgis," this cross-shaped church in the Amhara region of Ethiopia was carved out of tufa limestone in the late 12th century or early 13th century. In addition to being a pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Orthodox members, the monolithic church is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gila cliff dwellings — Southern New Mexico

Gila Cliff dwellings in southern New Mexico. (Photo: Erika J Mitchell/Shutterstock)

About 400 miles due south of Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park is yet another remarkable example of indigenous cave dwelling architecture: New Mexico's Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. With 46 rooms spanning about five different caves, the canyon complex was capable of housing up to 15 families, archaeologists believe.

Ajanta Caves — Maharashtra, India

Ajanta Cave in Maharashtra, India. (Photo: CRSHELARE/Shutterstock)

Nestled into the cliff face of a U-shaped gorge, the Ajanta caves was constructed in chunks starting in the 2nd century. Unlike the nearby Ellora caves, the temples of Ajanta are filled with paintings and sculptures that are entirely dedicated to Buddhism. Due to its historical significance, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.