The eastern European country of Georgia is home to a pair of remarkable places: the Krubera Cave, the deepest caves in the world, and the hillside monastery of Vardzia. Vardzia was originally both built into a hillside, digging caves into the rock, and built out alongside the rock-face. It was devastated by an earthquake that destroyed most of the external structure, but exposed the structure within.
Photos via wikipedia
The wikipedia entry claims that the monastery would have been 6,000 rooms spread across 13 levels; even now there are still some 300 rooms.
I really like the three-dimensional quality of the layout too: there are levels and partial levels, there are stairs that skip a whole (or multilple) levels, there appear to be many vertical connections as well as lateral.
Notice too that many of the stairs end right where the next begin, in contrast to so many dungeon maps where having arrived at one level you must search for the entrance to the next. It’s also interesting that the building stretches a long way across and up the hillside, but not very far into it. In all this layout, very tall and narrow, is quite different to the shallower, broader maps of my youth.
Photo via Wikipedia
Lest these images fool us into thinking that the monastery was a primitive one, let’s finish with some showing remnants of the fine stonework and mosaics that once covered this whole structure.
All images via wikipedia