Delhi Stepwell Restoration

An annotated map showing the urban and geological features of a historic site in Dehli, India.

Delhi Stepwell Restoration, Dehli, India, 2014–ongoing. Realized/Envisioned by Archaeological Survey of India. Scale: 14 acres. 700 feet above sea level. Drawing: Zeinab Maghdouri, Emilie Dunnenberger, Miguel L. Inoa.

Baolis, or stepwells, are underground reservoirs where water can be stored close to the groundwater level to ensure a constant water supply during the dry season, one of two monsoon seasons across the Indian subcontinent. Baolis were first constructed as rock-cut stepwells between 200 and 400 AD to ensure water during periods of drought. While stepwells are utilitarian, they also have significant religious, social and cultural significance, and some have rooms built to provide shelters to caravans. The earthquake-proof construction and cool microclimate under the earth has made baolis a sanctuary for collecting water as well as bathing, meditation and prayers. Delhi has an estimated 32 stepwells, 16 lost or demolished, and 14 accessible to the public. Three of the baoli are permanently dry. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage began a project to de-silt and restore the 16 baoli that have not been lost, in an effort to bring back traditional means of water security and resilience against an increasingly erratic monsoon cycle that has deepened the water crisis across India, especially in urban centers like Delhi. To rehabilitate the stepwells, garbage and debris must first be removed, and then the stepwell must be desilted to reconnect the reservoir to the water table. In areas where there is significant unregulated pumping from wells, groundwater levels may be significantly below the lowest depths of the baoli, presenting a need for stewardship not only of the stepwell itself, but also equitable water policy for the surrounding areas to recharge groundwater.


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Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Delhi Chapter, “Baolis of Delhi,” Google Arts & Culture

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Victoria Lautman, “India’s Forgotten Stepwells,” ArchDaily, June 28, 2013.

Richi Verma, “Delhi: Dwarka’s Lodi-era baoli restored,” Times of India, May 10, 2015.