A medieval swimming pool

After a surfeit of temples in Hampi it felt good to walk into any other type of building. The first one we entered was a swimming pool. This is in the middle of the main citadel and is called the Queen’s Bath. Medieval Europe didn’t have swimming pools, heated baths having disappeared with the Romans. I found two things remarkable about this structure. The first was the size: it was a square 15 meters to a side and 1.8 meters deep. This is a sixth of the volume of a modern olympic sized swimming pool, but large for a small group of people.

The second thing which seemed remarkable was the profuse use of arches and domes. Temple architecture did not seem to have advanced much in Hampi, except in the slenderness of pillars. The simple pillar and beam construction may have been in a state of arrested development precisely because it was a temple, and its construction had to follow set patterns. The medieval advances in architecture were visible here, where fashion could triumph over tradition. The result was a profusion of arches, stucco work, and balconies. Unfortunately moss has begun to crumble the plaster into a grainy black.

Wide galleries ran along the sides of the pool, with arches supporting domes. Stairs led down from the galleries into the pool. One side of the pool contains the water channels which once brought water into the pool from a reservoir. Filling the pool would have required 400,000 liters of water. The channels were not wide enough to allow the pool to be filled fast. I wondered whether medieval Hampi had invented some sort of water filtering and purifying system to allow the water in the pool to be used over and over again. Or did the queen come here seldom, and time could be given to cleaning and refilling the pool between visits. There is definitely history waiting to be written here.

I looked up at the inside of the domes. They were not large, and they sat on simple octagonal bases. There seemed to be no particular specialty there, except for the lovely decorations on the inside of each dome. The lotus, the leaves, and the ducks all carried the theme of water. This city was founded in the late 14th century CE and lasted till the 17th century. Within this period, there doesn’t seem to be a dating of this building. At one time you could enter the gallery from all sides, but modern crowd control requires a single opening. I had completed my circuit of the gallery, and back at the southern opening, I stepped out again into the hot afternoon sun. A modern swimming pool would have been very welcome.