The Italian word rotonda meant the same as the English word rotunda, and both derived from the Latin word rotundus meaning round. I’d tugged that etymological thread in Rotonda West. However, Rotonda West wasn’t the only Rotonda. Far from it. Many more existed although usually in Italy as one would expect, or in places where Italian and Roman influences found a home.
Rotonda, Basilicata, Italy
Rotonda by Basilicata Turistica on Flickr (cc)
I discovered an entire town of Rotonda and it was a descent size too (map). Perhaps 3,500 people lived there. According to the Italian version of Wikipedia, the name first appeared in a document in 1083. A castle sat atop a knob hill and a town formed around it in a circular pattern. This physical appearance described the town and gave it a name. The castle fell to ruin long ago and the town grew imprecisely over generations so nothing remained of its roundness other than the name.
Villa Almerico Capra "La Rotonda"
Villa Capra "La Rotonda" by Hilde Kari on Flickr (cc)
Outside of Vicenza in northeast Italy rose a magnificent villa from the Sixteenth Century. It came to be known as Villa Almerico Capra in its official capacity although it was more commonly called "La Rotonda" (map). The masterful architect Andrea Palladio designed this structure for bishop Paolo Almerico "who after leaving his brilliant career at the papal court, comes back to his birthplace and prefers the quiet countryside to the family palace." Being closely connected to the papal court during the Renaissance wasn’t such a bad deal, I supposed. Forty years would pass before the villa reached its final perfection, well after Palladio and Almerico both passed away. By then it was in the possession of the Capra family.
It is no coincidence that the villa stands on top of a hill, in the countryside that stretches out from the banks of the river Bacchiglione to the Colli Berici. The image is the image of a temple-villa, almost cubical, with façades bearing a pronaos with majestic Ionic colonnades and triangular tympanums, topped by a dome which at the beginning was planned like the Roman Pantheon, and should be opened by an oeil-de-boeuf, but then was squashed and closed.
The property passed to Count Valmarana in the early Twentieth Century and it still remains in the family. Maintaining a facility of that grandeur must be expensive because it’s been open to the public since 1986. People can tour its grounds and interior on a regular schedule, or they can rent it out for cultural events, corporate gatherings or even parties. It remains one of the most significant contributing structures to the surrounding UNESCO World Heritage Site, the City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto.
The Rotonda in Thessaloniki, Greece
The Rotonda by Daniel Tellman on Flickr (cc)
Located physically in Greece, this Rotonda was a Roman structure commissioned by the emperor Galerius in the early Fourth Century. It was built at the same time as, and adjoined with, another feature known as the Arch of Galerius intending to celebrate a military victory over the Persians. Both were part of a larger palace complex. Thessaloniki became an important trading center and political power during this period and it made sense to locate imposing structures like these in the city (map). The site Sacred Destinations described the evolving purpose of the Rotonda over the centuries:
The Rotunda of Galerius was converted into a Christian church in the late 4th century or mid-5th century… The Ottoman Turks ruled Thessaloniki from 1430, and in 1591, Agios Georgios was converted into a mosque… After serving three religions, the Rotunda is now a deconsecrated museum. It has been undergoing extensive restorations ever since the destructive earthquake of 1978. The Rotunda reopened in 1999.
A minaret still stands outside of the Rotonda from the period when it served as a mosque.
Spanish for Roundabout
Rotonda by Núria on Flickr (cc)
The Spanish word for round was redondo, yet they adopted the Italian word rotonda for roundabouts. That made it difficult to search other uses of rotonda. I kept bumping into images of roundabouts. I felt it would be appropriate for me to select one of those Spanish roundabouts at random and take a closer look. I chose the Plaça d’Ildefons Cerdà (map) in Barcelona primarily because I found a nice photograph of it with a creative commons license.
The choice came with a heavy dose of irony. Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876), was "considered to be one of the fathers of ‘comprehensive city improvements through physical planning’ and, essentially, modern-day planning itself." He designed an extension beyond the original city of Barcelona called the Eixample.
Here’s how El Periódico Barcelona described the roundabout named for him (the original was in Spanish; I cleaned it up from a mangled Google Translate rendition):
He designed a grid, but the square is a perfect circle. He thought of rectangles and octagons, but they put his name to .. a roundabout. He envisioned a city of quiet, peace and pedestrians, but the place is the territory of noisy engines. He dreamed of green, with more gardens than buildings, but the beautiful meadow that lies at the center of the square is only achievable for pigeons, provided they fly to it.
In other words, city officials put his name on something he would have hated.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I stumbled across the existence of an entire genre of structural design known as Rock Cut Architecture, described in the previous article. I could hardly contain my glee although there was still a lot of work to be done. There were so many examples from widely varied parts of the world that I couldn’t fit them all into a single article. That made this follow-on post necessary, with additional illustrations from several more nations.
Ellora Caves, India
Great Kailasa From Above by Craig Moe on Flickr (cc)
India became such an epicenter for buildings and rooms carved from stone that it had its own distinct subcategory, Indian Rock Cut Architecture. It wasn’t just one culture or religion either. Followers of several beliefs and faiths practiced and perfected this art. These structures rose in numerous places. One of the best was the Ellora Caves in Maharashtra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
These 34 monasteries and temples, extending over more than 2 km, were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff, not far from Aurangabad, in Maharashtra. Ellora, with its uninterrupted sequence of monuments dating from A.D. 600 to 1000, brings the civilization of ancient India to life. Not only is the Ellora complex a unique artistic creation and a technological exploit but, with its sanctuaries devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, it illustrates the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India.
A Hindu Structure known as Cave 16 or the Kailasa temple (map) was particularly impressive. This massive structure unfolded on multiple levels, so large and complex that it had to be carved from the top down. It dated to the reign of Krishna I in the Eight Century.
Yungang Grottoes, China
Yungang Grottoes by Olga on Flickr (cc)
Sites featuring rock cut architecture in India were often called Caves by English speakers, and in China they were Grottoes. I didn’t know why. I simply observed that China placed a close second to India in terms of rock cut prevalence and impressiveness. There were several expansive sites, notably the Yungang Grottoes near Datong in Shanxi Province (map). These were Buddhist structures from the Fifth and Sixth Centuries. Buddhism moved north from India as did a penchant for rock cut architecture. At Yungang, devotees carved more than 250 openings and 50,000 statues into the Wuzhou Shan mountains, "a classical masterpiece of the first peak of Chinese Buddhist art."
Vardzia Monastery, Georgia
Vardzia by Tony Bowden on Flickr (cc)
Vardzia in Georgia (map) represented an instance of carving into stone for protection as much using it as a convenient building material.
In desperate circumstances people are often driven to perform feats of mythical proportions. In the late 1100s the medieval kingdom of Georgia was resisting the onslaught of the Mongol hordes, the most devastating force Europe had ever seen. Queen Tamar ordered the construction of this underground sanctuary in 1185, and the digging began, carving into the side of the Erusheli mountain, located in the south of the country near the town of Aspindza.
Once completed, the Vardzia Monastery contained multiple levels and thousands of rooms, stretching over a half kilometre of mountainside. Invaders weren’t a problem although natural forces took a heavy toll. An earthquake caused many of the cells to collapse after only a century.
Coober Pedy, Australia
Underground House at Coober Pedy by Matthew Klein on Flickr (cc)
The popularity of rock-cut architecture faded many centuries ago. The technique was incredibly labor intensive. In the meantime, other building techniques and materials continued to improve. Nonetheless, this distinctive style survive into the modern era although generally during unusual circumstances such as those found at Coober Pedy in South Australia (map).
Coober Pedy was one of those places that probably had no reason to exist except that it happened to sit atop enough gemstones to crown itself "Opal Capital of the World." Otherwise it was a harsh desert climate not particularly conducive to civilization. For one, there weren’t any local material available to build anything to shelter those who mined for opals. However, the surrounding bedrock was perfect for digging into so local inhabitants did just that and created what were known as dugouts. People simply carved into hillsides.
The early Coober Pedy dugouts were indeed the holes that had been dug in search for opal. Today opal mining in the town area of Coober Pedy is not allowed any more. But hey, you can always renovate or expand, Need another shelf? Dig a hole in the wall. Shelf not big enough for the new stereo? Dig a bit deeper. A walk in robe? Dig a big hole. Another bed room? Not a problem! And always the off chance of finding some opal… In reality nobody digs by hand any more. Any new building work is done by modern tunneling machines.
Many homes and businesses in the area were created as dugouts, as were two churches, one Catholic and the other Serbian Orthodox. Residents of these structures also benefited from a constant comfortable temperature. Whether the desert at the surface hit scorching hot or freezing cold, it always remained nice underground. Rock cut architecture might not be an optimal choice in most places today although it seemed to be a great solution for Coober Pedy.
Architectural styles sometimes make it onto the pages of Twelve Mile Circle, with Pueblo Deco and Egyptian Revival coming quickly to mind. I stumbled across another noteworthy example recently. I considered structures I’d wondered about before, carved directly from their stony landscapes. I didn’t realize that it had a name though, Rock Cut Architecture. This style came to prominence during ancient times although it continued to exist even during the present in isolated instances. Many ancient cultures from all parts of the world carved buildings from stone during its heyday. I picked a few favorites to explore further for this and a follow-on article.
It seems like I’ve done a lot of multi-part articles lately. I’m not so sure that’s become truly a "thing" on 12MC as much as it’s a reflection of encountering a number of topics with an overabundance of material lately.
ad-Deir, Petra, Jordan by yeowatzup on Flickr (cc)
Petra was the classic example and probably the place that most people knew about (map). It certainly made appearances in popular culture including movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Those were rather trite references though. The real deal was much more impressive.
Classic structures within the complex including Al Deir ("The Monastery") and Al Khazneh ("The Treasury") dating back to about the time of Christ. Petra, then known as Raqmu, was a trading center for a civilization of Arabs called the Nabataeans. Camel caravans traveled across deserts from faraway places to this important crossroads. The people of the Nabataean kingdom made their city there, "half-built, half-carved into the rock" and "surrounded by mountains riddled with passages and gorges." That was a mighty fine place until the Roman emperor Trajan conquered Nabataea in the first century. Eventually it became lost to the Western world until "rediscovered" in the Nineteenth Century. Now it’s the most important tourist site in Jordan.
Lalibela by Wojtek Ogrodowczyk on Flickr (cc)
It was actually Lalibela that brought this topic to my mind as I took a walk the other day (map). I used to go to an Ethiopian restaurant called Lalibela and I wondered whatever happened to it, which took me down a mental tangent to the holy city of the same name. Bedrock plains formed a canvas for Lalibela, made of an unusual and highly porous form of limestone called tufa. "The metabolism of algae, bacteria and mosses is important for tufa formation due to consumption of CO2 (causing CaCO3 [calcium carbonate] supersaturation)."
Unlike many other places with Rock Cut Architecture, structures at Lalibela such as the Church of St. George (Biete Ghiorgis) weren’t cut from the side of mountains, they were cut directly from the ground. Structures here dated to the Middle Ages.
In a mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia, some 645 km from Addis Ababa, eleven medieval monolithic churches were carved out of rock. Their building is attributed to King Lalibela who set out to construct in the 12th century a "New Jerusalem", after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the holy Land.
It remained one of the holiest sites in Ethiopia, still a gathering point for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians even today.
Abu Simbel, Egypt
Temple of Ramesses II by Don McCrady on Flickr (cc)
The temples at Abu Simbel went way back to the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II who commissioned these structures circa 1250 BC (map). He meant to send a message, a symbol of his power at the far southern fringes of his empire. These magnificent structures carved into cliffs along the Nile River confronted all who passed, a grandeur that could not be replicated by any other civilization of the time.
Abu Simbel continued to impress in modern times. The site had been lost beneath desert sands for centuries, completely forgotten until about two hundred years ago when they were uncovered once again. More recently, in the 1960’s, Egypt built the Aswan Dam and created Lake Nassar. This offered many benefits to a desert nation including flood control on the fickle Nile, water for irrigation, and abundant hydroelectric power. It also would have drowned Abu Simbel below the surface of the lake. Instead, the Egyptian government lovingly moved the structures uphill and reconstructed them piece-by-piece into artificial hillsides specially constructed for this purpose.
Göreme by David on Flickr (cc)
Structures at Göreme arose in a much more haphazard fashion (map). The local landscape contained geological features known as hoodoos or "fairy chimneys" caused by erosion. People first moved into the area prior to 1000 BC, possibly for safety. This area of Turkey traded hands frequently as empires rose and fell. The inhospitable hoodoo formations repelled outsiders while offering attractive formations for local inhabitants to dig into and build their homes, businesses and places of worship. The town continues to have a population of about 2,000 residents.