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In my novel, I was planning to have the palace/citadel type place located inside a mountain- so like a sort of cave type thing, but on a bigger scale.

There would be decoration around the entrance of the palace, and staircases leading up to it, but the palace itself would be built into the actual mountainside.

The people in my story aren't super advanced with technology, so I'm not entirely sure if this is extending past their capabilities or not. And also whether this is actually possible by any means- for instance would the mountain have to be made from hard rock for it to sustain its shape?

Any sort of advice/ideas on whether this is possible or how I would have to adapt things to make it possible would be much appreciated!! Thanks!

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    $\begingroup$ check out the cathedral in the Wieliczka Salt Mine -en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wieliczka_Salt_Mine $\endgroup$
    – Allan
    Commented Mar 5, 2022 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Allan Oh wow that's great thank you! I was trying to find places like this but couldn't come across any, so thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Faeology
    Commented Mar 5, 2022 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ Here's another link 13th century Colorado nps.gov/meve/learn/historyculture/cliff_dwellings_home.htm $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Commented Mar 5, 2022 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Goodies Thank you so much! That'll help a lot :) $\endgroup$
    – Faeology
    Commented Mar 5, 2022 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ Side note: the term ‘citadel’ means a defensive structure inside a city (which might or might not be a residence), while ‘palace’ is just a noble residence, and would be called a ‘castle’ if it was also a defensive structure. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 7:33

5 Answers 5

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If you haven't heard of Petra before, you're probably in for a treat.

Here's a nice photo of Al-Khazneh, the treasury:

An image of the entrace to the treasury of Petra, taken from the cliffs above (image credit: Elias Rovielo)

Petra is a city, with large portions carved into desert sandstone. It was built around the second century BC, so you don't need super fancy modern technology to accomplish this sort of thing.

The insides of the buildings they'd carved into cliff faces were somewhat plain and simple compared to the amazing exteriors, but that's not to say that they had to be.

For something a little more modern, consider the rock-cut temples at the Ellora caves. Still over a thousand years old, some bits date back to the 7th century.

Kailasanatha temple interior (image credit: Akshay Prakash)

The Kailasa temple was apparently carved from a single contiguous chunk of rock in a hillside, no additional masonry:

Kailasa temple exterior (image credit: Y. Shishido)

If your people have access to friendly geology with decent rock that's not super hard, and access to good metal tools, they're probably good to go. It'll take a lot of work by a lot of people over and extended period of time.

Remember that a lot of ancient massive works were built by huge numbers of slaves, often taken in war. Free (or at least, free-ish) people can and have accomplished similar large scale constructions, but have a think about who will be doing the hard work, why they're doing it, under what conditions, and how that fits into your history.

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  • $\begingroup$ Saw the question just now and instantly thought of Petra! $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 10:45
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    $\begingroup$ Churches in Lalibela, in Ethiopia are similar to the Kailasa temple $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ To muddy the waters unnecessarily, it appears from contemporary documentary evidence that the builders of (at least some of) the famous pyramids in Egypt were paid employees. Thought I'd throw that in there. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ @MadPhysicist honestly, I'm surprised by quite how many large scale stone-cut things there are. I hadn't quite realized the popularity of the method before starting to look into it. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ @PrimeMover yeah, I did go back and edit my initial wording, which implied that most used slave labor, which does not appear to be true. On reflection, I suspect that quite a bit of the work would have to be done by people who actually cared about it, with slaves used for unskilled labor like quarrying or building ditches and banks, etc. Something to add to the "things to research in future" list. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 20:09
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It has been done. Often enough that it has a name. Use a cave.

Notice that it was chiefly done for fortification with other buildings being outside. Then castles had many more functions in times of old. You may want to still situate other functions outside, such as the attached slaughterhouse.

Putting everything inside is either a sign they face grave danger, or grand conspicuous consumption.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much for the link, I never knew about Cave Castles! And that fits really well with my story- as there is a separate area outside for buildings like the church etc. $\endgroup$
    – Faeology
    Commented Mar 5, 2022 at 15:18
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In addition to the answer by Mary, consider

But there are different requirements for a fortress, a citadel, and a palace. Meanings change over time and with context, but a citadel tends to be either a fortress to overwatch a city or similar resource, or the inner part of a fortress. A fortress may or may not be larger than what one thinks when one hears citadel. Generally, people live in a palace, often rather well, they also live in a fortress, but they retreat into a citadel.

Especially with low technology, there could be problems with air, with light, with smoke from light sources and cooking, and with waste disposal. One way to provide air without modern pumps was to light a fire that would suck air from the cave and ventilate smoke through a chimney, but that would require round-the-clock attention. I'm aware of it being used by sappers in sieges, not sure about permanent dwellings. Damp and cold could also be problems.

So it is probably possible, even in relatively soft rock, but it takes a lot of effort to make it a palace fit for a king or queen.

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A bit of a frame challenge, but this may be close to what you're going for but allows more building space: build your palace in/on a cliff.

Dogon cliff dwelling in Mali

A real world example are the Dogon villages. Due to persecution of the Dogon people they highly prioritised the defendability of their houses and storages. A readily available options was found in the Bandiagara escarpment, a sandstone cliff next to sand flats. Villages were built in overhangs in the cliff face. There is a path leading up to the village, but it is well hidden - one anthropologist wanting to visit was even hoisted up in a wooden basket.

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Not sure what is the threshold for "super advanced with technology," but the Cheyenne Mountain NORAD base was completed with 1960s technology.

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