apropos of indianpatriot's post on vijayanagar, we should all go to hampi to see the ruins of that great city. this is truly the symbol of india -- the 'teardrop on the face of time'. of great glory devastated.
at its peak it was the largest and richest city in the world. it was about 500 sq. km. in size!
in terms of prosperity, i have never quite understood how they became so rich, possibly because they controlled the trade on both coasts, and also because they had a rich agricultural surplus, and also because of their monopoly trade in diamonds (they had all the known diamond mines in the world!).
but it's unbelievable how rich it was. there are seven bazaars, each of them quite large. the largest was *almost a mile long* -- a huge shopping mall, with stalls (some of them double-storied) on each side of this thoroughfare leading to the vitthala temple. a very wide thoroughfare too, something like 150 feet wide.
and one of the bazaars was the courtesan's bazaar -- there was enough prosperity to support a huge bazaar that had nothing but courtesan!
and it held back the mohammedans from south india for 300 years, and basically saved south from the kind of cultural hollowing-out that the north experienced. as a small instance, ask yourself why all the classical dances of india are concentrated in the south: kathakali, bharata natyam, kuchipudi, odissi (not forgetting manipuri). it's because the civilizational attack by mohammedans had denuded north india of its traditional culture. similarly, after the sack of nalanda, science and mathematics flourished only in the south (eg. the kerala school). that, too, disappeared from the north.
vijayanagar was the great bulwark. this is why when they finally got the chance, the mohammedan sultans *burned it for six months* so that nothing was left except stone! and even the stone they mutilated as much as they could.
you need to go to vijayanagar to see how correct will durant was when he said "civilization is a precious good, constantly under attack".