Monolithic architecture

Pancha Rathas monolith rock-cut temple, late 7th century
For the software sense, see monolithic system.

Monolithic architecture covers buildings carved, cast or excavated from a single piece of material, in historic forms rock. The most basic form of monolithic architecture is a rock-cut building, such as the monolithic churches of Ethiopia or the Pancha Rathas in India. These are cut out of solid rock, to which they remain attached at the base. In most cases this is evident from the remaining surrounding rock, but sometimes a building is cut from an outcrop, as in the Shore Temple in southern India, and only inspection at close quarters reveals that the building is monolithic.

Buildings with a structural material that is poured into place, most commonly concrete, can also be described as monolithic. Extreme examples are monolithic domes, where the material is sprayed inside of a form to produce the solid structure. An ancient example of a monolithic dome is that of the Mausoleum of Theodoric in Ravenna, Italy, whose roof is a single stone.

The terms monolith and elements such as monolithic columns are normally used for objects made from a single large piece of rock which is detached from the ground, and may have been moved a considerable distance, as with several Egyptian obelisks, which have been moved across the world.


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