Rock Cut, Part 2

On May 11, 2016 · 2 Comments

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
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
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
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.

On May 11, 2016 · 2 Comments

Rock Cut

On May 8, 2016 · 5 Comments

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.

Petra, Jordan

ad-Deir, Petra, Jordan
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, Ethiopia

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
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, Turkey

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.

On May 8, 2016 · 5 Comments

Literal Roads to Nowhere

On May 4, 2016 · 3 Comments

Nowhere appeared on Twelve Mile Circle before. I guess I liked the underlying concept of a place of nowhere, which by definition had to be somewhere. I mined this topic pretty hard with articles like Middle of Nowhere and X to Nowhere. I referenced it more recently in the latest Odds and Ends article. That one featured a road in Iqaluit, Nunavut named, literally, Road to Nowhere. People in Nunavut seemed amused by its existence and took photographs that they posted all over the Intertubes. I was amused too, amused enough to wonder if there were other roads to nowhere actually called Road to Nowhere, literally.

I ran into an immediate issue, the overwhelming figurative usage of Road to Nowhere describing journeys to extremely remote places or as a metaphor representing life’s unproductive tangents. Atop that layered several songs titled Road to Nowhere, like the one from Talking Heads released in 1985 or a completely different one from Ozzy Osbourne in 1991. Then there were two or three films with the title. Abundant pop culture references made it difficult to find any actual roads called Road to Nowhere. Nonetheless, I scrounged through my online sources and discovered a small handful.

  • Road to Nowhere, Hartney, MB, Canada (map)
  • Road to Nowhere, Burnet, TX (map)
  • Road to Nowhere, Irvington, VA (map)

Then I shifted gears a bit and tried another approach. If Road to Nowhere might be a problem then perhaps Nowhere Road might offer a solution. No dice. There were just as many songs and movies about Nowhere Roads as there were Roads to Nowhere. Eventually I found a decent, real world Nowhere Road outside of Athens, Georgia. It was pretty significant too, stretching a little more than 9 miles (14.5 kilometres). Best of all it included the glorious intersection of Nowhere Road and Nowhere Lane (map)! That spot might be able to make a legitimate claim to being the best middle of nowhere anywhere, or at least the crossroads of nowhere, even though it didn’t necessarily seem to be all that nowhere.

Nowhere Road at Nowhere Lane
Nowhere Road & Nowhere Lane; Athens, GA
via Google Street View, May 2014

It featured numerous homes and businesses along its multi-mile length, including Big Tom’s Christmas Trees.

Did I mention the boiled peanuts? — I guess you didn’t watch the video, right?

I never developed a taste for boiled peanuts despite growing up in the South. They always seemed much too salty and mushy to me. Maybe I’ve never had a good batch. In my experience they were also far more common much further south than where I lived so that’s probably why I never got used to them as a delicacy. I typically thought of Georgia as the home of boiled peanuts when they came to mind so its prominent placement in the video made perfect sense.

A Change of Direction

Then I threw in the towel. I had to go figurative because the literal examples simply weren’t cutting it and I still had a lot of space to fill in the article. Fortunately there were still decent occurrences in the wild that hadn’t made it onto the pages of 12MC yet. The most commonly referenced Road to Nowhere seemed to be one in Great Smokey Mountains National Park (map).

Road To Nowhere
Road To Nowhere by Smoky Dan on Flickr (cc)

The Federal government promised to replace Highway 288 with a new road. Lakeview Drive was to have stretched along the north shore of Fontana Lake, from Bryson City to Fontana, 30 miles to the west… But Lakeview Drive fell victim to an environmental issue and construction was stopped, with the road ending at a tunnel, about six miles into the park… The legal issue of whether to build the road was finally resolved in February, 2010 when the US Department of Interior signed a settlement agreement to pay Swain County $52 million in lieu of building the road.

I found another one. Remember the Bridge to Nowhere in Ketchikan, Alaska? A few years ago I said,

It was portrayed in the media as a bridge for the 50 residents of Gravina Island. That’s a bit simplified. Actually it was intended to replace the ferry and connect Ketchikan to its airport. That would have benefited 8,000 residents rather than 50. Still, it works out to about $50,000 per resident.

Well, it turned out that the State of Alaska started building highway infrastructure on Gravina Island in anticipation of the bridge, before money had actually been secured for it. Funding for the bridge famously dissipated after it became a public symbol of pork barrel politics. Its construction never happened. This left Gravina Island with a beautiful $28 million, 3.2 mile (5 km) high-capacity road from nowhere to nowhere; "the road now ends, as it has since it was completed years ago, amid nothing but muskeg and scrub forest." (map)

This article, more than just about any other, led truly nowhere.

On May 4, 2016 · 3 Comments
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