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Famous Large Monoliths in the World

Sucheta Pradhan Nov 07, 2020
Monoliths have been used in ancient art and architecture of the world since antiquity. Learn about some of the largest monoliths in the world through this post.

Quick Fact

The statue of Gomateshwara, located in Karnataka, India, is the largest monolithic statue in the world. Built in the 10th century A.D., it is one of the most revered Jain statues in the world.
The term 'monolith' has been derived from the ancient Greek word monolithos, meaning 'single stone'. So, a monolith essentially is a geological formation that comprises a single, large rock. There are a huge number of monolithic formations all across the world, and some of them are so gigantic that we can only but admire them with awe.
Some of these monoliths have been artistically altered by nature. The natural processes of weathering, erosion, etc., have resulted in the formation of some of the greatest natural monolithic sculptures, the beauty of which is incomparable, even with man-made ones.
It is equally interesting that, over the years, man has also been able to work on some of these monoliths, and create some of the most wondrous architectural masterpieces, carved out of a single, massive block of stone.
What is even more notable about these monolithic monuments and edifices is the fact that, because they have been hewn out of a single stone, many of them have been able to withstand the ravages of time and remain intact in situ.

Largest Monoliths

Monolithic rock formations are common geological features. Some of them have become extremely famous the world over. Here are some of the largest monoliths in the world:
Ayers Rock
Location: Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, Central Australia
Highest Point: 348 m above ground level
Also known as Uluru, this is one of the most popular natural icons of Australia. It is made of sandstone and is sacred to the Australian Aborigines. Interestingly, one can witness subtle changes in its color, which occur simultaneously with the movements of the Sun.
Peña de Bernal
Location: San Sebastián Bernal, Querétaro, Mexico
Highest Point: 350 m above the ground level
The monolith has been dated to the Jurassic period, and is believed to have been formed some 100 million years ago. There is a little chapel halfway up the rock, which is a famous pilgrimage site.
Rock of Gibraltar
Location: British overseas territory of Gibraltar, on the Iberian Peninsula
Highest Point: 426 m above the ground level
The upper portion of this limestone monolith is a huge nature reserve and has about 250 endangered Barbary macaques. The rock is also popular among tourists for its numerous tunnels constructed by the British army, over a period of 200 years, in order to store their arms and ammunition and also to serve as their hospitals and barracks.
Towers of Paine
Location: Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia
Highest Point: 2,500 m above the ground level
The three towers of Paine are the highlight of the Torres del Paine National Park. They are colossal monoliths made of granite, and have acquired their peculiar shape due to constant glacial activities in the region.
El Capitan
Location: Yosemite National Park, California, U.S.A
Highest Point: 900 m above the ground level
This is yet another granite monolith, situated to the north of the Yosemite Valley. It is one of the favorite spots of rock climbers and appears on the reverse of the United States quarter dollar coin, one of the issues from the America the Beautiful Quarters series.
Sugarloaf Mountain
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Highest Point: 396 m above sea level
The monolith consists of quartz and granite. Its shape resembles that of refined loaf sugar, hence the name. A cable car takes tourists to the peak of the mountain from where, one can enjoy a bird's-eye view of some of the most spectacular beaches in Brazil.
Ben Amera
Location: Desert of Mauritania, near the Western Saharan border
Highest Point: 400 m above the surrounding plain
This is considered to be the third largest monolith in the world, but is comparatively less studied than the other monolith which are more popular. Not many tourists visit this natural wonder hidden in the desert of Mauritania, probably due to the difficult route that leads to it. There are also some other monoliths located in its vicinity.
Devil's Tower
Location: Black Hills, Crook County, northeastern Wyoming
Highest Point: 1,559 m above sea level
Declared as a United States National Monument in 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt, this monolithic igneous intrusion is actually the core of an ancient volcano, which has been exposed due to erosional processes. It is one of the most popular and important sites for traditional climbing.
Several other monoliths such as the Zuma Rock in Nigeria and the Mount Augustus in Australia also occupy a significant place with respect to the geology of the world.

Man-made Monolithic Structures

Kailash Temple
Location: Ellora, Maharashtra, India
What: Shrine of Lord Shiva
Date: 8th century A.D.
Type of Stone: Basalt

Church of Saint George

Location: Lalibela, Amhara Region, Ethiopia
What: Church
Date: 12th century A.D.
Type of Stone: Red volcanic Rock
The Great Sphinx
Location: Giza, Egypt
What: Statue
Date: 2500 B.C.
Type of Stone: Sandstone
Descent of the Ganges
Location: Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India
What: Bas-relief
Date: 7th century A.D.
Type of Stone: Granite
Location: Matale District, Central province, Sri Lanka
What: Fortress
Date: 5th century B.C.
Type of Stone: Limestone
Axum Stele
Location: Axum, Ethiopia
What: Obelisk
Date: 4th century A.D.
Type of Stone: Granite
The ability of man to use and modify colossal monoliths and create artistic masterpieces out of them is indeed astonishing. The numerous monolithic edifices, which have been created by people over hundreds and thousands of years, not only stand tall in the pages of history, but also hold a significant place even today.