About the year 1420 or 1421
A.D. there visited Vijayanagara one Nicolo, an Italian, commonly
called Nicolo Conti or Nicolo dei Conti, and if he was not
the earliest European visitor, he was at least the earliest
that we know of whose description of the place has survived
to this day. His visit must have taken place shortly after
the accession of Deva Raya
II. Nicolo never apparently wrote anything himself. His
stories were recorded in Latin by Poggio Bracciolini, the
Pope's secretary, for his master's information. Translated
into Portuguese, they were re-translated from the Portuguese
into Italian by Ramusio, who searched for but failed to obtain
a copy of the original in Latin. This original was first published
in 1723 by the Abbe Oliva of Paris under the title P. BRACCIOLINI,
DE VARIETATE FORTUNAE, LIBER QUATUOR.
Nicolo, on reaching India,
visited first the city of Cambaya in Gujarat. After twenty
days' sojourn there he passed down the coast to "Pacamuria,"
probably Barkur, and "Helly," which is the "Mount
d'Ely" or "Cabo d'Eli" of later writers. Thence
he travelled inland and reached the Raya's capital, Vijayanagara,
which he calls "Bizenegalia." He begins his description
"The great city of Bizenegalia
is situated near very steep mountains. The circumference of
the city is sixty miles; its walls are carried up to the mountains
and enclose the valleys at their foot, so that its extent
is thereby increased. In this city there are estimated to
be ninety thousand men fit to bear arms."
"Thrice in the year
they keep festivals of especial solemnity. On one of these
occasions the males and females of all ages, having bathed
in the rivers or the sea, clothe themselves in new garments,
and spend three entire days in singing, dancing, and feasting.
On another of these festivals they fix up within their temples,
and on the outside on the roofs, an innumerable number of
lamps of oil of SUSIMANNI, which are kept burning day and
night. On the third, which lasts nine days, they set up in
all the highways large beams, like the masts of small ships,
to the upper part of which are attached pieces of very beautiful
cloth of various kinds, interwoven with gold. On the summit
of each of these beams is each day placed a man of pious aspect,
dedicated to religion, capable of enduring all things with
equanimity, who is to pray for the favour of God. These men
are assailed by the people, who pelt them with oranges, lemons,
and other odoriferous fruits, all which they bear most patiently.
There are also three other festival days, during which they
sprinkle all passers-by, even the king and queen themselves,
with saffron water, placed for that purpose by the wayside.
This is received by all with much laughter."