Hampi Zenana Enclosure

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Close by the Hampi Mint is the Zenana Enclosure, a large walled complex that features some quite delightful Indo-Islamic buildings that somehow managed to survive the sack of Hampi, including the exquisite Lotus Mahal, the Elephant Stables, and three ornate watch towers.

There is some controversy over the exact function of the Zenana Enclosure, with some historians and archaeologist saying that the buildings inside it were used for administrative purposes and others arguing that – as it name implies – the complex was where the royal women resided.

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With its romantic name and stunningly beautiful blend of Indo-Islamic architecture, the Lotus Mahal certainly seems to support the latter theory, though I suppose that there’s no reason why it couldn’t have served as a council chamber as some historians claim. Still, the august members of such a body would probably have confined their deliberations to the ground floor of the structure rather than risk ascending the poorly-built interior staircase, which seems to have been hastily added during construction.

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The northern and southern watch towers also provide ammunition to both sides of the argument over the function of the complex. Yes, they could plausibly have been used by guards watching over the enclosure, but with their ornate architectural style they could also have been used by the ladies of the Zenana to discretely observe what was happening in the world outside their confinement.

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The other highlight in the Zenana is the Elephant Stables, a magnificent 15th century Indo-Islamic structure that was, as its name implies, used for stabling the state’s elephants. The building features a long line of eleven large domed chambers, each of which could accommodate two pachyderms, interconnected with large arched openings. The ruined structure atop the center of the building suggests that there was also once a pillared pavilion on top.

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