Revisiting a forgotten facet of Indian architecture with American author Victoria Lautman
Tourists throng India’s temples, palaces, forts and mosques, but the country’s ancient stepwells are largely unknown. These remarkable subterranean structures not only provided communities with water all year long but also served as civic centers, refuges, remote oases and, in many cases, active places of worship. But besides their many functions, stepwells were marvels of engineering, architecture, and art. Some were lavish and ornate, others minimal and utilitarian. They could be enormous, plunging nine stories into the earth, or could be intimately scaled for private use. Thousands of these fascinating edifices once proliferated across India, but most were abandoned as a result of modernization and depleted water tables. While some have been restored by the government, most are sadly neglected and in danger of extinction.
The Vanishing Stepwells of India is an marvellous book, documenting the author’s extensive travels across India and her exploration of the country’s ancient water-harvesting systems – brilliant examples of ancient Indian engineering, now largely forgotten. The book presents seventy-five subterranean wonders, a fraction of those Victoria spent four years photographing throughout India. Informative rather than scholarly, the book sheds light on a unique – if ignored – architectural typology, through several hundred colour photographs and detailed entries. GPS coordinates are provided, in the hopes that readers will be inspired to see these elusive beauties with their own eyes.
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