Rani Ki Vav is an 11th-century-stepwell situated in the town of Patan in Gujarat, India, on the banks of the Saraswati River. The stepwell is said to have been constructed by Udayamati, the widowed Queen of Bhimdev I (AD 1022 to 1063), around 1050 AD in memory of the king. Bhimdev I was the son of Mularaja, the founder of the Solanki dynasty of Anahilwada Patan. The stepwell was later flooded by the nearby Saraswati river and silted over until the late 1980s, when it was excavated by archeologists. When restored, the stepwell’s magnificent carvings were found in pristine condition. Stepwells are a distinctive form of subterranean water resource and storage systems on the Indian subcontinent, and have been constructed since the 3rd millennium BC.
They evolved over time from what was basically a pit in sandy soil towards elaborate multi-storey works of art and architecture. Rani-ki-Vav was built at a period when craftsmen were at the height of their stepwell construction ability. The Maru-Gurjara architectural style reflect mastery of this complex technique and great beauty of detail and proportions. Befitting its name, the Rani-Ki-Vav is now considered to be the queen among step wells of India. Chand Baori, in Rajasthan, is another exceptional example of this technology.
Designed as an inverted temple highlighting the sanctity of water, it is divided into seven levels of stairs with sculptural panels of high artistic quality. There are more than 500 principle sculptures and over a thousand minor ones that combine religious, mythological and secular imagery, often referencing literary works. The fourth level is the deepest and leads into a rectangular tank 9.5 m by 9.4 m, at a depth of 23 m. The well is located at the westernmost end of the property and consists of a shaft 10 m in diameter and 30 m deep. The building itself measures 64 meters by 20 meters.
Below the last step of the step well, there is a gate that leads to a tunnel 30 kilometer long that opens at the town of Sidhpur near Patan. It was built as an escape gateway which could be used by the king in the event of defeat during a war. The tunnel is now blocked by stones and mud.
In the 13th century, geotectonic changes lead to massive flood and disappearance of the Saraswati river, following which the stepwell ceased to function as a water well. Above all, it buried the property under several layers of slit for almost seven centuries. It was the silt carried by the flood caused during this historic event, which allowed for the exceptional preservation of Rani-ki-Vav, until it was discovered less than 30 years ago.
Rani ki vav was included in the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site on 22 June 2014.