Although temples dominated our itinerary, we also saw some more secular monuments along the way.
The largest was a fort built over several centuries at Gingee, a small town in the middle of nowhere. The outer defensive wall was a triangle measuring several kilometers on each side, with walls over 10 meters thick. Inside, many layers of imposing defences were built on three mountains that rose out of the plains. We climbed the 1200 steps up the highest of these, unbearably hot even on a winter morning. These defences seemed impregnable, but they did not ultimately stop anyone, as the fort passed from Indian to French to British hands. I can only guess that in a determined siege, walls and mountains count less than access to food, water, and local support.
Other forts seemed to have a less military purpose. Trichy is famous for its Rock Fort, built to overlook the city by the seventeenth-century Nayak kings. Most of the construction along the 400 steps to the summit was temples, however, and the castle at the top seemed more for living than defence.
In Tanjore, the same Chola king who built the temple with the great tower also built a palace. Most of what remains today, however, is from the 17th to 19th centuries and is slowly rotting even though the king's descendants are still living inside.
Madurai has an impressive palace built by the Nayak kings in the 17th century. Much of it was torn down to reuse building materials, a common sport of both Indian and British rulers. But the main hall is still impressive enough to serve as backdrop for innumerable Bollywood movies, one of which was filming an assassination scene while we visited.
The most remarkable was a forgotten palace in Ramanathapuram, a small town on the road back from Rameswaram. Only one guidebook thought to mention it, and it was so obscure that our driver had to ask directions to find it down dirt streets. And yet inside, every wall and ceiling was covered with impressive 17th-century murals. They were unlit and unmaintained, with piles of wood scattered around the floor. The Architectural Survey of India's only interest seemed to be employing two people to sell tickets to the occasional visitor.