From reservoirs and aqueducts to pressurized pipe systems and simple rain barrels, humans have spent countless centuries perfecting the science of collecting, storing and transporting one of our most precious resources: water.
One of the most fascinating and aesthetically pleasing examples of this is the ancient stepwells of India, which are, as the name implies, man-made wells or ponds that are equipped with steps that lead down to the water table.
You'll find many of these unique water sources in northwestern Indian regions like Gujarat and Rajasthan, which are extremely hot and dry for half of the year and filled with monsoon rains the other half. The stepwells allowed towns and cities to maintain a constant water supply even in the face of months-long droughts.
Rudimentary stepwells began popping up in great numbers around India between the 2nd and 4th centuries A.D., and only became more elaborate and grandiose over the centuries.
Stepwells are more than just functional water sources housed within grand architectural structures. In addition to providing water for drinking and bathing, they were also important sites for socializing between women, as well as peaceful places for meditation and prayer.Stepwells declined in use during the rise of British rule in the mid-1800s as more modern piped water systems were installed across the empire. As relics of the past, many stepwells are now tourist attractions, while many others have deteriorated due to neglect.
Want to learn more about stepwells? In the video below, journalist Victoria Lautman gives viewers a crash course in the fascinating world of these ancient architectural wonders:
Continue below to see more photos of stepwells in India, including some of the most famous examples like Chand Baori (above) and Adalaj (below).