Hampi Ruins in the 1900s: Stellar Photographs From A Forgotten Historical Text

Published on: 02/11/2022

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Hampi Ruins from Hemakuta Hill

In the first part of this series, I took a deep dive into ancient gateways recorded in bromide prints in Hampi Ruins by Albert Henry Longhurst. Published in the early 20th century, this book is a stellar record by a government servant whose love for architecture led him to record the ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire. Before I delve deeper into the ruins of Hampi in the 1900s, I’d like to take a minute to describe the photographs in this book.

Susan Sontag writes that, “photographs are a way of imprisoning reality...One can't possess reality, one can possess images—one can't possess the present but one can possess the past…all photographs testify to time's relentless melt.” And Longhurst’s photographs do something that most history books fail to do. These snapshots are not just a reminder of the ruins of Hampi, but of its once glorious past. Even in the grainy photographs, the crumbling facades, and the chipped pillars, one can see that these monuments were towering objects that instilled a sense of pride and superiority in the past.

I’d like to spend the second part of this series to focus on certain photographs that stand out from the others in this book. An ode to the snapshots that transport the reader to a Hampi long forgotten. Today, these ruins are expertly preserved and travelers from far and wide marvel at their beauty. But these photographs from the 1900s are a window into a time when the area was still pretty desolate, and that adds a little bit of magic to these prints.

For instance, Hemakuta Hill is still a popular spot to view the sunrise and sunset in Hampi. The first photograph in Longhurst’s book is a panoramic shot of the Hampi Ruins from Hemakuta Hill, and there is something absolutely majestic about the view. The first time I visited Hampi in 2017, I took in this view, but Longhurst manages to capture the beautiful loneliness of the ruins perfectly. The winding pathways, the sparse foliage, and the ruins jutting out as far as the eye can see…this is certainly one of the best photographs from Hampi Ruins.


Another glorious photograph is of the Matanga Parvatam and the Hampi Bazaar. Matanaga Hill, as it is known today, is the highest point in Hampi and is a lovely 30 minute uphill hike, and Longhurst captures both the hill and the Hampi Bazaar in one splendid shot. When I visited Hampi, walking through the old bazaar is one of my favorite memories, and it is strangely exhilarating to see Longhurst capture the ruined pillars more than a century ago.


Hampi Ruins from Matanga Hill

Interestingly, Longhurst’s book doesn’t simply itself to the ruins of Hampi as the book title suggests. There is a breathtaking photograph of the Chandragiri Palace. Located hundreds of miles from Hampi, this little town is where the Vijayanagara Empire finally came to an end. After the Battle of Talikota, and the ransacking of Hampi, the capital of the severely weakened Vijayanagara Empire was shifted to Penukonda. However, after an attack by the Golconda Sultanate, the capital was shifted to Chandragiri, now in Andhra Pradesh. This is where the final rulers of Hampi, from the Aravidu dynasty, ruled on the dregs of the glorious Vijayanagara Empire. I chose this photograph because, even as a modest fort and palace, the photograph has a certain grandeur to it that is befitting the mightiest empire of the south.


In his preface, Longhurst writes, “Time spent in the study of the architecture of the past will never be regretted, for every ruin tells of the history of other days…” Hampi Ruins is the kind of book for those who are always looking for windows into the past where, even for just a turn of the page, time stands still.


Nicholas Rixon

Nicholas Rixon's work has appeared in The Indian Quarterly, Scroll, The Statesman, Hindustan Times and The Assam Tribune, among others. He currently lives in New Delhi and is working on his debut collection of short stories.

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