Sanchi: Sanchi is known for Stupas, monasteries, temples, and pillars dating back from 3rd century BC to 12th century AD. The most famous of these monuments, the Great Sanchi Stupa, was originally built by Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (c.304 BC - 232 BC) and is the oldest stone structure in India, 36.5 m in diameter and 16.4 m high, with a massive hemispherical dome. The Stupa stands in eternal majesty, the paved procession path around it worn smooth by centuries of pilgrims. It appears that Emperor Ashoka, an ardent Buddhist, erected the monastery in Sanchi so that Buddhist monks would go overseas and promote Buddhism.
Early Buddhist art has no finer expression than the The Four Gateways that surround the Great Stupa. The Buddha, according to the tenets of early Buddhist art, is portrayed in symbols: the lotus representing his birth, the tree his enlightenment, the wheel derived from his first sermon, and the foot prints and throne symbolizing his presence. These have been carved with such inspired intensity and imagery that, taken together with the surrounding figures, they are considered the finest Buddhist art, and thus counter balance the massive solidity of the Stupa they encircle.
We will see ruins of monasteries, and many smaller stupas, built for lesser known Buddhist teachers. This are was also a school for building temples, as we will see smaller scale models of temples.
The Middle Ages saw the wane of Buddhism, and the Sanchi Monastries were overgrown by trees and weeds till 1818 when a British soldier re-discovered Sanchi and its magnificence. We are thus fortunate to find stone carvings in a comparatively pristine condition, since they were "out of sight" for nearly half of their 2000 year life.