The experience of looking down into architecture rather than up at it is a subversive one. Of India’s hundreds of stepwells, Chand Baori is one of the largest, deepest and oldest. Its mesmerizing geometry of more than 3,500 steps and its plunge down 30 meters through 13 stories never fails to excite.

The first function of stepwells, which are unique to India, was to provide a year-round source of water. Their design offered two advantages over simple draw-wells. Stepwells had, first, great capacity. Many were built along trade routes, where they could serve both residents and travelers. Stepwells were also cooler down at their water-table’s surface than up on the ground above. Especially under Islamic rule, architectural enhancements were made to stepwells, such as loggias with small chambers—such as the one near the center of Chand Baori—in which one could take relief from the sun.

Chand Baori was built around 800 CE by Raja Chand, a Hindi surname that means “moon.” In the 18th century, Mughal rulers added rooms, galleries and arches. Today it is fenced, its stairs being regarded as too steep to allow public access anymore.

—Victoria Lautman author of The Vanishing Stepwells of India
Merrell Publishers, 2017 @victorialautman