Although free-standing structure temples were being constructed by the 5th century, rock-cut cave temples continued to be constructed in parallel. Later, like in the Ellora Caves, rock-cut cave construction grew increasingly elaborate. In other words, boulders were chopped into bricks and utilized to construct free-standing constructions. However, the caves themselves are natural holes in the rock with no evidence of human intervention.
Free-standing structure temples are characterized by their use of standardized components that can be easily transported and assembled without any special tools or techniques. These components include the drums, columns, and capitals that make up the exterior walls and roof of the temple. The drums were usually made out of limestone but some clay ones have been found in well-preserved condition. They often have incised patterns on them which may have been used as decorative elements or for religious purposes. The columns were usually formed from multiple stones that were dragged to the building site and then arranged in symmetrical rows to support the roofs of the buildings. They vary in size but typically measure about 3 meters high and 1.5 meters wide. Capitals are large blocks or pillars with a flat surface that fits against another similar block or pillar to form a wall or roof beam. They are used to build external walls and internal passageways within free-standing structures.
The earliest known example of a free-standing structure temple is the Daoketes' Temple in Hancheng City, China.
Rock-cut architecture in India. Historically, rock-cut temples have been embellished with a wood-like motif; expert artisans learnt to simulate timber texture, grain, and structure. Some of the earliest cave temples are the Ajanta Caves. Excavated between 1818 and 1890 by the British East Indian Company, they contain a large number of paintings on stone panels and monastic cells.
The term "cave temple" may cause confusion, as many rock-cut temples do not require any internal space within which to stand or walk. They often consist only of a single room, carved out of one block of stone, with no external walls. The typical example is the Prasat Thom (Temple Cave) at Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, which dates from 1150. It consists solely of a large chamber with an entrance doorway cut into the solid rock.
In addition to this main chamber, some rock-cut temples have secondary rooms or halls off either side. These would have been used for meditation or prayer, and might include a small shrine where holy images could be kept. There might also be a third, smaller chamber accessible through a niche or hole in the wall of the main hall. This would have been used as a sacristy where priests could store items such as incense and ceremonial clothes.
Rock-cut architecture is a kind of rock art that involves cutting a building out of solid natural rock. Cave temples and monasteries may be found across India, but the largest and most well-known manmade caverns were discovered in the Western Deccan area. The earliest evidence of human activity in these caves dates back to about 600 BC. They are particularly abundant in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
For example, the Ajanta Caves are an ancient Buddhist monastery near Mumbai (then known as Bombay) in western India. The site consists of nearly 70 cave temples, stupas, and monastic dwellings carved into the sides of steep hills or outcroppings of rock. Many of these buildings are more than 1000 years old. The greatest number of caves is at Ajanta, but there are also sites with more than 20 caves including Sanchi Stupa and Bhaja Govindji's Temples (both in Maharashtra).
The majority of caves are made of limestone, but some are cut from volcanic rocks such as pumice and basalt. Some caves have flat roofs while others have high ceilings. The main entrance to most caves is on the side or rear, although there are exceptions. In general, the closer you look at these sites, the more you will see signs of use and habitation by people over time.
The process of cutting a structure out of solid natural rock is known as rock-cut architecture. There are several instances of this type of activity, which is frequently done on a large scale and requires a lot of labor. The rock-cut tombs and temples on this list are among the most astounding and magnificent structures on the planet.
Some locations that have rock cut buildings include: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Italy, Greece, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Africa, the Middle East.
In India, ancient builders used the hard stone available in the region to carve some amazing structures. The Buddha statue in Sarnath near Varanasi is one of them. It is said that if you walk around the foot of the statue, your path will be lined with other ancient statues!
In Pakistan, the Indus River Valley has many examples of these ancient buildings. Some of them are hundreds of years old!
In China, there are thousands of these structures dating back over 5,000 years. They are all over the place - in the mountains, deserts, valleys, by rivers... You name it!
In Europe, we usually think about ancient ruins when we talk about rock cut architecture. However, there are still many standing stones, burial sites, and other structures in Europe that were also built using this method. One example is the Carnac Stone Monuments in Brittany, France.