Its library soared nine stories into the sky, and its 10,000 students came from all across Asia and beyond - China, Korea, Greece, Indonesia, Japan, Persia - to study at Nalanda University in northern India. It was the world's first great international university, founded in the 400s CE during the reign of the Gupta Dynasty, and also the first known university with dormitories for its students.
From its founding, probably during the reign of Kumara Gupta I (415 - 455 CE), the university was sacked by invaders three different times. The Huns attacked and destroyed Nalanda during the reign of Kumara Gupta I's successor, Skanda Gupta (455 - 467), but the Guptas rebuilt the university. After the Guptas fell at the beginning of the 7th century, invaders from Gauda ransacked the university; Emperor Harsha Vardhan (r. 606 - 647) rebuilt it again.
Finally, in 1193, a Turkic Afghan invader named Baktiyar Khilji sacked the university and burned it to the ground. His goal was to destroy Buddhism in India, and he was quite successful; he massacred Nalanda's students, many of them Buddhist monks, and the university fell into ruin.
Today, though, plans are afoot to revive Nalanda University once more. The new Nalanda, to be built about 10 kilometers from the ruins of the ancient school, will focus on languages, business, Asian culture, and the humanities. Its first chancellor is the Nobel economics laureate Amartya Sen. Sen is working on raising the $1 billion US needed to get the university running, and also moving permits for the project through India's famously ponderous bureaucracy.
Photo of ancient Nalanda University's ruins, 1962, from Keystone Archive / Getty Images.