<p>With an elaborate facade towering more than 150 feet above the desert, Petra's mountaintop "Monastery" was most likely a temple built in the first century B.C.</p>

With an elaborate facade towering more than 150 feet above the desert, Petra's mountaintop "Monastery" was most likely a temple built in the first century B.C.

Photograph by Michael Melford, Nat Geo Image Collection

Magnificent Ancient Buildings Hewn From Living Rock

From towering temples to artistic tombs, humans have been carving structures from cliff faces and mountainsides for thousands of years.

It’s human nature to modify our natural surroundings, but it's hard to believe that a simple tweak to a humble cave tens of thousands of years ago may have led to our eternal fascination with rock-cut architecture.

Hewn from living rock (that is, rock that remains part of a natural geologic feature such as a cliff or outcropping), many of these man-made structures have survived the test of time and remain objects of beauty and wonder in our modern world. Whether it’s the colossal Temple of Ramses II in Egypt or the modest monk cells of Cappadocia’s “fairy chimneys,” these buildings all have one thing in common: they were built in times of an endless supply of cheap—or even unpaid—labor.

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