The Great Stupa: Stupa 1, as it is listed on the site, is the main structure on the hill. Originally constructed by Ashoka in the third century BC it was later enlarged and the original brick stupa enclosed within a stone one. In its present form it stands 16 metres high and 37 metres in diameter. A railing encircles the stupa and there are four entrances through magnificently carved gateways or toranas. These toranas are the finest works of art at Sanchi and amongst the finest examples of Buddhist art in India.
Toranas: The four gateways were erected around 35 BC and had all fallen down at the time of the stupa's restoration. The scenes carved onto the pillars and their triple architraves are mainly tales from the jatakas — the episodes of the Bud-ha's various lives. At this stage in Buddhist art the Buddha was never represented directly. His presence was always alluded to through symbols such as the Bo tree, the wheel of law or his footprint. Even a stupa is itself a symbol of the Buddha.
Pillars: Scattered around the site are a number of pillars or the remains of pillars. The most important is pillar 10 which was erected by Ashoka and stands close to the south entrance to the great stupa. Only the base of this beautifully proportioned and executed shaft now stands but the fine capital can be seen in the museum. The three back-to-back lions which once topped the column are an excellent example of the Graeco-Buddhist art of that era at its finest. They now form the state emblem of India and can be seen on every bank note. Pillars 25 and 35, both dating from the 5th century AD, are not as fine as the earlier Ashoka pillar. Pillar 35, also broken, stands close to the north gateway of the great stupa and again the capital figure is in the museum.
Other Stupas: There are many other stupas on the hill, some of them tiny votive stupas less than a metre high. They date from the 3rd century BC to the 12th century AD. Eight of the stupas were built by Ashoka but only three of the Ashoka stupas remain, including the great stupa. Stupa 2, one of the most interesting of the lesser stupas, is half way down the hill to the east. If you come up from the town by the main route you can walk back down via stupa 2. There are no gateways to this stupa but the 'medallions' which decorate the surrounding wall are of great interest.