Gol Gumbaz has the second largest unsupported dome in the world. The largest is the dome of the St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.
It was built by Mohammed Adil Shah in Bijapur and completed in 1659. Designed by an Iranian architect, Yaqut of Dabul, the Gol Gumbaz was built keeping only size in mind. The name "Gol Gumbaz" literally means "Circular Dome".
Entering the grounds of the Gol gumbaz, I passed under an enormous archway of the "House of Drums", the Naqqar Khana. The first thing that struck me was the enormous size of the tomb. I felt tiny and insignificant; and that's exactly what the sultan had in mind.
After the sack of Hampi, the Adil Shahis returned to Bijapur with an enormous war booty. This sparked off a building boom in Bijapur for the next 200 years.
Each ruler of the Adil Shahi dynasty tried to outdo his predecessor by building greater and grander monuments. With so many great pieces of historical architecture, Bijapur has earned the nick name, "The Agra of the South"
Mohammed Adil Shah's father, Ibrahim built his tomb the Ibrahim Rouza, rich with artistic detail. Knowing that there was no way he could overcome the artistry of the Ibrahim Rouza, Mohammed Adil Shah chose to showcase his greatness through sheer size.
Under his reign, the Kingdom of Bijapur achieved it's greatest size. The kingdom stretched from Dhabul(Mumbai) in the north to Mysore in the south, with the seaboards of the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea from west to east. In a way the Gol Gumbaz reflects the greatest size that the Bijapur kingdom achieved.
The architecture is extremely simple: A hemisphere on top of a cube. At the corner are four, 8 storied minarets which serve as stairways.
The second thing that hit me was the wailing and screeching noises that seemed to come from within the tomb. At the entrance the guard punched my ticket and motioned me to remove my shoes. I sat at the doorway taking them off. Judging by the number of shoes that lay in little piles near the doorway, there were a lot of visitors that day.
High above me over the doorway suspended from a chain was a rock. It was meteorite that had fallen during the Mohammed Adil Shah's reign. It was hung on the tomb to protect it from lightning. Whoever suggested that must have surely flunked his science exam.
I entered the tomb and the wailing only grew louder. After walking for 5 hours in the heat of Bijapur and coolness of the stone floor felt wonderful as it spread under my toes and soles. Thanks it's enormous size and windows, the tomb was well lit and ventilated. Most tombs are dark and have a musty odour.
The dome is renowned for it's splendid acoustics. The sound of a match stick breaking is amplified and echoed 7 times. The tick of a watch at one end can be heard at the other end of the dome which is 142 feet in diameter. Unfortunately over enthusiastic tourists test the acoustics and the strength of their vocal cords, by screaming and hooting.
I walked around the central plinth, upon which were the grave markers of the people buried. Mohammed Adil Shah lies buried deep in the burial chamber underground with his youngest wife Arus Bibi, his favourite daughter and a grandson.
Except for one, the staircases of all the minarets were closed. With nothing much to left to see, I made my way up the minaret. Several large bee hives hung from the arched windows of the minaret. The stairs were littered with dead bees that were squished beneath my bare feet, not a very pleasant feeling.
After what seemed to take a long time. At the top, the stairway opened out on the roof of the cube. When I looked over the edge, I gasped. I was 160 feet high and felt quite giddy. I could see Bijapur spread out like a map, most of it obscured in the glare of the setting sun.
I walked around the dome which was decorated with petal like patterns at the base. The petals were huge and one of them had an opening which lead to the inner whispering gallery beneath the dome.
The noise inside was incredible. People were shouting out to each other, screaming, hooting, some were singing songs. But with so many people making sounds coupled with the multiple echoes, the sounds just melted into a single screeching wailing note. So much for respect for the dead.
I could see a couple of foreigners standing near me looking quite disgusted. I felt really ashamed of what was happening and the impression we were making. After a while the noise was too much to bear and I made my way back down.
I wandered in the grounds around the tomb. After a while I sat down in the shade of an overgrown bush. The massive proportions of the building were still striking and I could'nt help but think, "Size really does matter" :)