A new photobook has been published that unveils the history behind one of India’s best kept architectural secrets – a series of idiosyncratic subterranean stepwells scattered all over the country.
Called The Vanishing Stepwells of India, the project was completed by Chicago-based journalist Victoria Lautman over the course of seven years, and saw her exploring different parts of India to discover more about the background of the unique ancient structures. Also known as baolis, vavs and kunds in various parts of the country, stepwells are manufactured storage systems that were created to allow people to access a water source by descending a series of steps. Not only did they provide communities with water all year long, but also served as civic centres, refuges, remote oases and, in many cases, active places of worship. Besides their functions, they were also marvels of engineering, architecture and art, with some being lavish and ornate while others were minimal and utilitarian. They could be enormous, plunging nine stories into the earth, or could be intimately scaled for private use.