Rani ki Vav, India

The Scottish Ten team hoped that digitally documenting Rani ki Vav in 2011 would raise the profile of the royal stepwell, little known outside India. UNESCO inscribed Rani ki Vav as a World Heritage Site in 2014.


Stepwells were used in India from around the 7th century as a communal source of water and shade. Often architectural masterpieces, stepwells were also social hubs, as people would gather on the lower levels to escape the heat.

Rani ki Vav, or the Queen’s Stepwell, dates from between 1022 and 1063. Udayamati is believed to have commissioned the stepwell, in memory of her late husband Bhimdev I.

Silt backfilled the stepwell’s seven levels over centuries, brilliantly preserving its ornate decoration until the site’s rediscovery in the 1950s. Each terrace has multiple pillared pavilions that feature intricate sculptures of Hindu deities.

Selection for the Scottish Ten

A shortlist of potential Indian heritage sites was agreed between the Scottish Government and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Rani ki Vav was on India’s Tentative List for inscription as a World Heritage Site at the time it was scanned in 2011. The Scottish Ten team hoped that digitally documenting the site would raise its profile. UNESCO inscribed Rani ki Vav as a World Heritage Site in 2014, and our 3D data played a role in the monument’s management plan as part of the nomination.

Digital conservation was also an important factor. ASI can now use our very accurate, high-resolution 3D survey to inform the heritage management of Rani ki Vav.

Project challenges

Rani ki Vav was digitally documented over two weeks in 2011.

Rani ki Vav is 27m deep and has almost 400 wall niches that hold delicate carvings. The sheer number of complex carvings was the major challenge of digitally recording the site. To respond to this, the team used a number of new and adapted 3D scanning technologies and photogrammetry.

A special rig was needed to scan the interior walls of the well itself. Access is difficult and the rig let the team suspend the scanner over the edge of the well and lower it into the depths.

Temperatures of 38 to 40°C were a further challenge for both the team and its equipment.

The team working in the huge interior of Rani Ki Vav.

Valuable outcomes

ASI has been able to add our high-resolution 3D survey to its existing survey record. This will inform the ongoing conservation and heritage management of Rani ki Vav.

The 3D scans can be:

  • used as an interpretation and education tool
  • a visual aid to explore the stepwell’s construction and iconography
  • processed into photorealistic animations to develop virtual tours
  • a conservation and management tool

View a 3D animation of Rani ki Vav and a short documentary on the project.

A computer model of intricate carving from scanning of Rani Ki Vav.

More information

Read more about the Rani Ki Vav project in:

Project partners

© Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation LLP, 2016

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