According to a short article by Catherine B. Zuckerman in NG (Feb 2011):
. . . India is pocked with thousands of deep, elaborately constructed cisterns known as step wells and step ponds.
Built as far back as the 7th century, both structurees were used to collect rain and groundwater. To access the water–whether to drink, bathe, or worship–villages descended stairs to its level. The wells’ differences are architectural: step wells are linear, with partly covered pavillions and stairs that face the water; stepped ponds are square with open tops and zigzagging Escher-esque stairs.
When British colonizers arrived in the 1800s, the wells were deemed unsanitary and fell into disuse. Today many are in states of decay, but lately a handful have been restored. The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage aims to protect more of them–and possibly revive them for water harvesting in the country’s arid regions. Architectural historian Morna Livingston supports the effort. “They’re again a source of pride,” she explains, “rather than a dump.”
To demonstrate that the Indian wells are escher-esque, see below.