Red Fort (near the Yamana River, Jama Masjid, Metro station, Violet Line) is the primary tourist attraction in Delhi. Built during the Mughal dynasty at the center Old Delhi, it is a huge settlement with towering grey-stone walls, palaces adorned with barbicans, public buildings and residences. The red sandstones walls stretch for two kilometers. A massive gates lead into Old Delhi and wide stone steps lead to the entrance of the fort.

The Red Fort (Lal Qila) Complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. The Red Fort Complex was built as the palace fort of Shahjahanabad – the new capital of the fifth Mughal Emperor of India, Shah Jahan. Named for its massive enclosing walls of red sandstone, it is adjacent to an older fort, the Salimgarh, built by Islam Shah Suri in 1546, with which it forms the Red Fort Complex. The private apartments consist of a row of pavilions connected by a continuous water channel, known as the Nahr-i-Behisht (Stream of Paradise). The Red Fort is considered to represent the zenith of Mughal creativity which, under the Shah Jahan, was brought to a new level of refinement. The planning of the palace is based on Islamic prototypes, but each pavilion reveals architectural elements typical of Mughal building, reflecting a fusion of Persian, Timurid and Hindu traditions The Red Fort’s innovative planning and architectural style, including the garden design, strongly influenced later buildings and gardens in Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra and further afield. [Source:UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

“The planning and design of the Red Fort represents a culmination of architectural development initiated in 1526 AD by the first Mughal Emperor and brought to a splendid refinement by Shah Jahan with a fusion of traditions: Islamic, Persian, Timurid and Hindu. The innovative planning arrangements and architectural style of building components as well as garden design developed in the Red Fort strongly influenced later buildings and gardens in Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra and further afield. The Red Fort has been the setting for events which have had a critical impact on its geo-cultural region.”

History of the Red Fort

The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666), builder of the Taj Mahal, commissioned the Red Fort as the palace fort of his capital Shahjahanabad,. Inside one hall the Mughal shahs received ambassadors and welcomed audiences while seated on the gold and bejeweled Peacock Throne. Along the battlements are dozens of ruined underground tunnels and rooms used in historical times to escape the heat.

The fort's construction was completed over a span of 10 years (1638-48). It once overlooked the Yamuna river, which has moved away over the course of time. Historians also suggest that a tree-lined waterway, which was called nahr-i-bihisht or river of paradise, ran out of the fort and its water was sourced from the Yamuna. Its innovative planning and brilliant architecture has inspired a number of monuments in Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra as well.

According to UNESCO: “The innovative planning arrangements and architectural style of building components and garden design developed in the Red Fort strongly influenced later buildings and gardens in Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra and further afield. The Red Fort Complex also reflects the phase of British military occupation, introducing new buildings and functions over the earlier Mughal structures.

“The Red Fort has been a symbol of power since the reign of Shah Jahan, has witnessed the change in Indian history to British rule, and was the place where Indian independence was first celebrated, and is still celebrated today. The Red Fort Complex has thus been the setting of events critical to the shaping of regional identity, and which have had a wide impact on the geo-cultural region.”

After the British reign ended, the barracks were used to house Indian Army personnel and it was only in 2003 that the Army vacated them. Today, some of these barracks have been turned into museums and art galleries, with the support of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The fact that the Indian Prime Minister hoists the National Flag from the ramparts of the Lahore Gate every year on Independence Day, makes the Red Fort among the most significant monuments of the country.

Components of the Red Fort

Lying at the heart of Delhi, the majestic Red Fort, made of fine red sandstone, stands as a testament to the architectural legacy of the Mughals. One of the most beautiful monuments in the world, this UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous as qila-e-mubaraq, is replete with palaces, pavilions and mosques. There is a small museum and a shopping arcade.

Red Fort is famous for its massive enclosing walls. The architecture of the fort reflects a seamless fusion of Islamic, Persian, Timurid and Hindu styles. The major attractions are the Diwan-i-khas, also known as the Shah Mahal, the Diwan-i-aam or the Hall of Public Audience and the Rang Mahal (a part of the harem), also known as Imtiyaz Mahal. The other monuments here are the Naubat Khana (Drum House), where royal musicians played and announced the arrival of royal family members; the hammam (royal bath), and the Muthamman Burj, or Musaman Burj (a tower where the emperor would show himself to his subjects). Once the power of the Mughals weakend, the fort was plundered by the Persians, led by Nadir Shah, in 1739. The invaders took away much of the fort's treasures, including the opulent Peacock Throne, which Shah Jahan had crafted out of gold and gemstones (including the precious Kohinoor diamond).

The entrance to the fort is through the Lahore Gate that leads to the shopping area called Chatta Chowk. The Chowk, an arched passageway which used to house royal tailors and merchants, is lined with stores selling ethnic handicrafts and apparels from different parts of the country. Not many know that the Red Fort also houses several military barracks, which were raised by the British. Made in red and white sandstone, the barracks stand as fine specimen of colonial architecture and one is instantly smitten by their old world charm. Dating back to 1857, the barracks were built to house the British army after it had dethroned Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor.

Museums in the Red Fort

Red Fort Archaeological Museum (inside the the Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Metro station, Violet Line) ) is dedicated to Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. It houses many relics dating back to the Mughal period, including paintings, calligraphy, artefacts, costumes and textiles. The major attractions are weapons and a map of the war of Independence of 1857. Other visual treats include the king’s silver smoking pipe (hookah), silk robes seeded with pearls, textiles from the 19th century and beautiful blue tiles from the 13th century. Red Fort Archaeological Museum lies inside Mumtaz Mahal, in Red Fort.

Kranti Mandir (temple of revolution) is a complex of museums inside the Red Fort that was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 2019. Comprising the Subash Chandra Bose Museum, the Yaad-e-Jallian Museum, the Museum on 1857- India's first war of Independence and Drishyakala Museum on Indian Art, Kranti Mandir is a treasure trove of Indian history. The Subash Chandra Bose Museum is dedicated to the legendary leader and the Indian National Army (INA). It houses various artefacts related to Netaji like a sword and a wooden chair that were once used by the leader. Moreover, uniforms, medals, badges related to INA can also be found.

The Yaad-e-Jallian Museum eloquently traces the Jallianwala Bagh massacre that took place on April 13, 1919. A memorial similar to that in Jalianwala Bagh has been erected in the museum. The museum on 1857-India's first war of Independence showcases the valour shown and sacrifices made by the soldiers during that time. The Drishyakala Museum houses splendid artworks of Indian history from the 16th century till India's independence. Paintings by renowned artists like Raja Ravi Varma and Amrita Shergil have been put on display.

Red Fort Light and Show

Every night the Red Fort is light up in a smaltzy but entertaining light and sound show with voices telling the story of the fort, sound effects like thunder and horse hooves and colored lights illuminating the mosques and minarets. The one-hour show traces the Mughal empire's history in India and offers a glimpse of their glorious past as well as the eventful phases that led to their downfall. The narration has been recorded by legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan.

There are two shows every night: one in Hindi one in English. The cost of admission is not high. The shows are every day with the exception of Mondays. September to October: 7.00-8.00 p.m. (Hindi), 8.30-9.30 p.m. (English). November to January: 6.00-7.00 p.m. (Hindi), 7.30-8.30 p.m. (English). February to April: 7.00-8.00 p.m. (Hindi), 8.30-9.30 p.m. (English). May to August: 7.30-8.30 p.m. (Hindi), 9.00-10.00 p.m (English).Tickets: are available at the ticket booth at the Fort, up to an hour before the start of the show

The Red Fort was the first place in Asia to have a sound and light show. The India Tourism Development Corporation started one there in 1965 and upgraded in 1996. According to Trip Savvy: “Another upgrade is being planned. While it currently may not have the special effects of some sound and light shows in India (lighting is only used to highlight buildings), its narration is quite good... The story reenacts Delhi's tumultuous 5,000-year history, with particular emphasis on the Mughal era during which the Fort was built by Emperor Shah Jahan.”

Purana Qila

Purana Qila (between India Gate and the Yamana River, Indraprasthra Metro station, Blue Line) is old fort used by the Mughals before the Red Fort was completed. Located next to the Pragaiti Maidan exhibition grounds, its is a splendid crumbling structure with thick walls, and monumental towers topped by delicate gazebo-like domes. Purana Qila still contains the library where the great emperor Humayan spent many hours studying. Purana Qila (Old Fort) was reportedly built on the legendary city of Indraprasthat, a capital mentioned in the 3,000-year-old Hindu epic. It also were a man from a Salman Rushdie story, Ahmed Sinai, left a bag of money for some blackmailers and was distressed to find out that someone found the sack and threw the money away.

Justin Bergman wrote in the New York Times, “When Delhi’s madly honking drivers get to be too much — and they will — head for the (relative) quietude of a park. Purana Qila, which means Old Fort, is a lovely place to escape, as much for the ruins as for the palm-shaded lawns (entrance, 100 rupees). The 65-foot red sandstone entrance and now-crumbling walls were built in the 16th century, but archaeologists have found evidence of habitation dating back more than 2,000 years. Not that anyone is paying much attention to the history — the young couples are too busy canoodling on the grass to notice.” [Source: Justin Bergman, New York Times, November 24, 2016]

The thick walls of the somewhat rectangular fort are crowned by merlons and have three gateways with bastions on either side. In ancient times, the fort was surrounded by a wide moat that was connected to River Yamuna, which flowed to the east of the fort. The Northern Gate is a blend of the Islamic pointed arch and the Hindu chhatris and brackets. The walls and the gateway of the fort were built by Mughal emperor Humayun and his work was carried forward by Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan ruler who ruled Delhi in the mid-16th century after defeating Humayun. Inside are a stepwell, a tower used as a library-cum-observatory, and a mosque. Humayun started construction in 1533, but was defeated after a few years by Sher Shah. Around 15 years later, Humayun re-captured the fort but soon after tripped down the stairs of the library and died. A spectacular light and sound show held every evening retells the story.

Light and Sound Show at the Purana Qila is newer than the one at the Red Fort. According to Trip Savvy: “The high-tech sound and light show at south Delhi's underrated Purana Qila (Old Fort) is possibly the best such show in India. Introduced in early 2011 after much anticipation, it's called "Ishq-e-Dilli" (Romancing Delhi) and shows the history of Delhi through its 10 cities, starting from the 11th-century reign of Prithvi Raj Chauhan to the present day. It also traces Delhi's connection with the mythology of Mahabharata and Indraprastha. It uses cutting-edge projection and laser technology, including 3D in some parts. It's possible to watch the whole show on YouTube.

The shows are every day with the exception of Fridays. September to October: 7.00-8.00 p.m. (Hindi), 8.30-9.30 p.m. (English). November to January: 6.00-7.00 p.m. (Hindi), 7.30-8.30 p.m. (English). February to April: 7.00-8.00 p.m. (Hindi), 8.30-9.30 p.m. (English). May to August: 7.30-8.30 p.m. (Hindi), 9.00-10.00 p.m (English).Tickets: are available at the ticket booth at the Fort, up to an hour before the start of the show

Indraprastha ( Old Fort)

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Significantly, until the beginning of 12th century, the village named Indapat, obviously derived from Indraprastha of Mahabharata fame, lay within Purana Qila itself. According to popular tradition, the present place - names Bagpat, Tilpat, Sonipat and Panipat are four of five pats or places demanded by Pandavas from the Kauravas and it is significant that all these places have yielded Painted Grey Ware associated with Mahabharata sites which have emerged after the excavations as Hastinapur in the 1950s. The site of Indraprastha ( Purana Qila or old Fort) was excavated from 1969 to 1973 and yielded continued cultural sequence from 4th century B.C. to late medieval period. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India]

It is beyond any doubt that Indraprastha enjoyed strategic geographical position and network of movements, situated on the western periphery of the Gangetic plain, almost on the cross-roads of the principal geo-political and cultural divisions of India. The township was located on the main communication artery leading to the gateway to the rich regions of Gangetic plain and central and southern India as well as to the western sea front. The ethnic migrations from the northwest and their further movements to central, western and southern regions of India could be possible only through the main route on which Indraprastha was sitting. It was well connected with Uttara-patha (northern or northwestern highway) and the Dakshinapatha (southern highway): There is no point in going into detail that the invaders from the northwest, the Indo-Greeks, Sakas, and Kushanas infiltered deep unto eastern, central, western and southern regions of the country mainly through the land route which touched Indraprastha. This route was also used by the traders, pilgrims and missionaries.

It is clear from the Buddhist tradition that even before the time of Buddha there were sixteen Great Kingdoms (Mahajanapadas) spanning almost the whole of northern India from Afghanistan to Bangladesh. The region of present day Delhi formed part of the Kuru Rattha, one of the sixteen Mahajanapadas. This kingdom was known to have had many towns and villages. The most important of them was Indapatta. This was the place from where king Dhananjay Korabya, who belonged to the Yuddhithila gotta (scion) ruled over his kingdom. The town of Indapatta was seven leagues in extent. It was noted as one of three chief cities of the contemporary Jambudipa (the geo-Cultural 'India' of Buddhist tradition). Moreover, it was well connected by roads to other cities e.g. Banaras. A township of Kuru Rattha, perhaps not far from Indapatta, was the Nigama (essentially market town or a trading centre) of Kammasadamma or Kamasadhamma, both varients of Nikays and referred to in the commentaries of Buddhaghosha in the fourth century A.D. Buddha stayed there several times; and several important sermons were preached there. According to one Jataka, there were two places of the same name; they were distinguished as the great Kamasadamma (Maha-Kamasadamma) and the little Kamsadamma (Culla Kamasadama). In Divya-Vadana, too, there is a reference to Varnsadamya, which was where the nuns Nanduttara and Mithhakalika lived. Yet, another town of the Kurus, mentioned in the Buddhist texts, is Therlla Kotthira. It is interesting that Hastinapur, the capital of Kauravas, does not receive as much notices as Indraprastha in Buddhist sources. [Source: Archaeological Survey of India]

“The most popular source of information is Mahabharata. According to Mahabharata, The capital of Kurus was Hastinapur on the Yamuna; and Indraprastha was built as their capital by the Pandavas on the Yamuna. After their victory in the Mahabharata war, Pandavas moved to Hastinapur and Indraprastha was handed over to the Yadavas. The Pandavas ruled from Hastinapur until Nicakshu's reigned. Nicakshu, the fifth in succession from Parikshit transferred his capital to Kaushambi because Hastinapur had been washed away by flood waters of the Ganga. The Yadava also later abandoned Indraprastha for Mathura, but it remained a city of importance in the Kuru Kingdom.

“There is a vivid description of the founding of Indraprastha and its beauty in the Mahabharata. In order to stop fight, Dhritrashtra and Bhishma gave half their kingdom to the Pandavas and asked them to go to the Khandava tract. The Khandava tract was a forested area. The tract had to be cleared with the help of Agni, the fire god. It was in Khandavaprashta, that a new fortified city was built by Pandavas, which was named Indraprashtha.

“Though the name Indraprastha survives in the later Purana Qila and Tantric works. It's importance seems to have declined roughly about the Gupta period. This is perhaps why we do not find mention of Indraprastha in the Travel Accounts of Chinese traveller Huen Tsang. Even Harsha, who could have chosen Indraprastha for the capital preferred to move from Thaneshwar to Kannauj. This is also perhaps why in the late Jaina Pattavalis and early medieval inscriptions instead of Indraprastha, we find Yognipura mentioned. Yet, Indraprastha was still remembered in the seventeenth and eighteenth century text of the Savtisangam Tantras as one of the five divisions of India, from the Tantric point of view. The discovery of inscription on an outcrop of the Aravallis to the south of Srinivasapuri almost in alignment with other ancient sites in the vicinity stretching from Indraprastha (Purana Qila) to Tilpat - all of them situated on the banks of the Yamuna, suggests the existence of a highway in the pre-Christian era.”

Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb (near Purana Qila on Mathura Road, Hazrat Nizmuddin Metro station, Pink Line) is a lovely sandstone prelude to the Taj Mahal. Surrounded by neatly manicured lawns, the massive Humayun’s Tomb is a spectacular monument that was the first garden mausoleum built in the Indian subcontinent. The first of the grand tombs synonymous with Mughal architecture, this monument narrates a timeless saga of love and longing.

Humayun'’s tomb houses the graves of both the emperor and his wife. Although some say it was built by Emperor Humayun for his wife, Haji Begum it was actually the other way around. Many think it was actually built by Humayun’s son Akbar to honor his father, probably between 1562 and 1571, with Haji Begum overseeing the construction. Humayun died after falling down a flight of stairs.

Humayun's Tomb, Delhi was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. According to UNESCO: : This tomb, built in 1570, is of particular cultural significance as it was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent. It inspired several major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal.

“Exemplifying the formative stage of the Mughal structural style, Humayun's Tomb stands as a landmark in the development of Mughal architecture, and also represents the earliest extant specimen of the Mughal scheme of the garden tomb, with causeways and channels. It is a well-developed specimen of the double-domed elevation with kiosks on a grand scale. This building tradition culminated in the Taj Mahal, constructed a century later. Despite being the first standardized example of this style, Humayun's Tomb is an architectural achievement of the highest order.

“The tomb of Humayun, second Mughal Emperor of India, was built by his widow, Biga Begum (Hajji Begum), in 1569-70, 14 years after his death, at a cost of 1.5 million rupees. The architect was Mirak Mirza Ghiyath. It was later used for the burial of various members of the ruling family and contains some 150 graves. It has aptly been described as the necropolis of the Mughal dynasty.

“The importance of Humayun's Tomb in the evolution of Mughal architecture is great. It is the first of a long series of dynastic tombs and innovative in a number of ways, notably by virtue of the fact that it introduced the garden tomb to the subcontinent. Humayun had travelled widely in the Islamic world, notably in Persia and central Asia, and brought back with him ideas that were applied by the architect of his tomb, under the direction of his widow, in this tomb. The tomb has been respected throughout its history and so has retained its original form and purpose intact. Subsequent interventions have been aimed at preserving this character...The tomb and its surrounding structures are substantially in their original state, and interventions in the present century have been minimal and of high quality.

Components of Humayun's Tomb

Humayun’s tomb is constructed of red sandstone and white marble. The white marble dome, which sits over an enormous sepulcher, was the model for the dome at the Taj Mahal, built by Akbar’s grandson Shah Jahan. The preservationist O. P. Jain told the New York Times, “Humayun’s tomb has a certain purity and relationship to God and nature and space, while the Taj has romance and grandeur.”

Humayun's Tomb was designed by the Persian architect Mirak Mirza Ghiyas. According to UNESCO: In plan it is an irregular octagon with four long and four short sides. It is surmounted by a 42.5 meters high double dome clad with marble flanked by decorative pillared kiosks (chhatris). The middle of each side is deeply recessed by large arched vaults with a series of smaller ones set into the face. The interior is a large octagonal chamber with vaulted roof compartments interconnected by galleries or corridors. This octagonal plan is repeated on the second storey. The structure is of dressed stone clad in red sandstone with white and black in laid marble borders. Within the enceinte to the southeast of Humayun's Tomb there is a fine square tomb of 1590-91, known as the Barber's Tomb.

One needs to walk through majestic gates to reach the monument. Right before the last and final gate, a viewing gallery has been set up by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that displays old pictures of the monument that reflect its grandeur. The main building is made of red sandstone while the tomb is made of white and black marble. An attractive gate leads you to the central hall, which houses the tomb of Humayun. The hall is adorned with intricately carved windows and a beautifully designed ceiling. The large platform is dotted with several tombs, including those of empress Haji Begum and prince Darah Shikoh.

An interesting fact about the monument is that it also houses the tomb of Humayun's favourite barber. The monument was used by the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar as a refuge before the British captured and exiled him in 1857. To the right of the complex is the tomb of Isa Khan, a noble at the court of Sher Shah Suri. It depicts Lodi-era architecture and was constructed in the 16th century. The Humayun's Tomb lies very close to another popular attraction of Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, a shrine built over the grave of the 14th century Sufi Saint Nizamuddin Auliya.

Garden at Humayun's Tomb

The lovely 13-hectare (30-acre) formal garden at Humayun's Tomb was the first tomb gardens built in India. Organized in geometrical squares and providing a model for the garden at the Taj Mahal, it features water-filed, sandstone-lined canals, gnarled, century-old ficus trees, palms, cypress and tamarind trees, mango trees, fountains and square pools. Starlings gather in the trees. Peacocks strut across the grounds. The gardens were renovated in the early 2000s with money from the Aga Khan and the work of stone cutters and laborers paid the equivalent of a few dollars a day.

As you enter the lush palm-lined lawns of the Charbagh (Four Gardens), you are welcomed by a beautiful fountain. The garden is further divided into four main sections by walkways and water channels; the design synonymous with the Paradise Garden mentioned in the holy book of Islam, the Quran. The four main sections are sub-divided into 36 parts. According to UNESCO: The tomb itself is in the centre of a large garden, laid out in char baah (four-fold) style, with pools joined by channels. The main entrance is on the south side, and there is another entrance on the west side. A pavilion and a bath are located in the centre of the eastern and northern walls respectively. The mausoleum itself is on a high, wide, terraced platform with small arched cells along the sides.

The four squares of the gardens are separated by four promenades, radiating from a central reflection pool. Spread over 13 hectares surrounding the monument, t he highly geometrical and enclosed Paradise garden is divided into four squares by paved walkways (khiyabans) and two bisecting central water channels, reflecting the four rivers that flow in jannat, the Islamic concept of paradise. Each of the four square is further divided into smaller squares with pathways, creating into 36 squares in all, a design typical of later Mughal gardens. The central water channels appear to be disappearing beneath the tomb structure and reappearing on the other side in a straight line, suggesting the Quranic verse, which talks of rivers flowing beneath the 'Garden of Paradise'.

The garden changed repeatedly over the years after its construction. After the Mughal capital was moved to to Agra in 1556, the entire monument began to decay and the upkeep of the garden was too expensive to maintain. By the early 18th century, the once lush gardens were replaced by vegetable garden of people who had settled within the walled area. After the British captured the the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1857 and had his three son executed the garden was transformed into an English-style garden. In the early 20th century, Viceroy Lord Curzon's ordered the original gardens restored.

Qutub Minar

Qutab Minar (Southern Delhi, Saket Metro station, Yellow Line) is a tower that rises to a height of 41 meters (135 feet) and was built in 1199. Hindus say it is a victory tower. Muslims say it is the minaret of a mosque. Next door is the Quwwat ul Islam mosque, believed to be the oldest extant mosque in India. Located in Delhi's Mehrauli area, the Qutub Minar was commissioned by Qutub-ud-din Aibak, who laid the foundation of Mamluk dynasty (1206-1290) in India. Inspired by the victory tower at Ghazni, Afghanistan, its construction began in 1192 AD but, unfortunately, Qutub-ud-din-Aibak, did not live long enough to witness its completion. The tower was finally completed by his successors Iltutmish and Firoz Shah Tughlaq.

Almost as old as the history of the Delhi Sultanate, the iconic Qutub Minar, the world's tallest brick minaret, dominates the skyline of the city. Standing 73 foot tall, this five-storeyed tower remains one of the most magnificent buildings of India from the medieval era. The first three storeys of the tower are built in red sandstone while the fourth and fifth are made of marble and sandstone. All the five floors are adorned with projecting balconies.

Tourists can also visit the Alai Darwaza, which is a domed gateway built with red sandstone and adorned with white marble inlays. Built by Allauddin Khalji, this grand monument stands as a testament to the craftsmanship of the skilled Turkish artisans who built it. In close proximity stands the Alai Minar, commissioned by Alauddin Khalji, who wanted it to be twice as high as the Qutub Minar. Unfortunately, the construction of the tower was stalled following the death of Khalji in 1316. Today, a giant rubble masonry of the tower's first storey can be seen at the spot, which was intended to be covered with a layer of stone. The tomb of Iltutmish was built by the emperor himself and was one of the first tombs to be built in Delhi.

Tourists can also head to the Mehrauli Archaeological Park that houses the final resting place of Ghiyas-ud-din Balban, who was once the ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. In the Qutub complex lies the Jamali Kamali Mosque and a tomb of a Sufi saint. The three-day Qutub Festival, held in the months of November and December, features classical dance and music, and is real crowd puller.

Qutub Minar and Its Monuments: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Qutb Minar and its Monuments was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.“According to UNESCO: Built in the early 13th century a few kilometers south of Delhi, the red sandstone tower of Qutb Minar is 72.5 meters high, tapering from 2.75 meters in diameter at its peak to 14.32 meters at its base, and alternating angular and rounded flutings. The surrounding archaeological area contains funerary buildings, notably the magnificent Alai-Darwaza Gate, the masterpiece of Indo-Muslim art (built in 1311), and two mosques, including the Quwwatu'l-Islam, the oldest in northern India, built of materials reused from some 20 Brahman temples. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

“Lalkot is the first of the seven cities of Delhi, established by the Tomar Rajput ruler, Anang Pal, in 1060. The Qutb complex lies in the middle of the eastern part of Lalkot. Building of the Quwwatu'l-Islam (Might of Islam) congregational mosque was begun in 1192 by Qutbu'd-Din Aibak and completed in 1198, using the demolished remains of Hindu temples. It was enlarged by Iltutmish (1211-36) and again by Alauld-Din Khalji (1296-1316).

“The Qutb Minar was also begun by Qutbu'd-Din Aibak, in around 1202 and completed by his successor, Muhammad-bin-Sam. It was damaged by lightning in 1326 and again in 1368, and was repaired by the rulers of the day, Muhammad-bin-Tughluq (1325-51) and Firuz Shah Tughluq (1351-88). In 1503 Sikandar Lodi carried out some restoration and enlargement of the upper storeys. The iron pillar in the mosque compound was brought from elsewhere in India. It bears a Sanskrit inscription from the 4th century AD describing the exploits of a ruler named Chandra, believed to be the Gupta King Chandragupta II (375-413). Of the other monuments, the Tomb of Iltutmish was built in 1235 by the ruler himself and Alai Darwaja was built in 1311 by Alauld-Din Khalji, who also began the construction of the Alai Minar.”

Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque

Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque (next to Qutab Minar) was constructed by Qutub-ud-din-Aibak, the mosque is considered to be the first building in the Qutub complex that houses a number of monuments. One of the most popular among these is the Iron Pillar, also known as the Ashoka Pillar, which dates back to the 4th century. Standing around 24 feet high and weighing more than six tonne, the pillar is famous for its high resistance to corrosion. It is a popular belief among tourists visiting the complex that if you can encircle the pillar with your arms while standing with your back to it, any wish you make will be fulfilled. An example of this can be seen in a scene from Hindi movie Cheeni Kum, which starred legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan.

According to UNESCO: The Quwwatu'l-Islam mosque consists of a courtyard, cloisters, and a prayer hall. The high arched screen facing the prayer hall was added in the 14th century. The Qutb Minar is a column built from red and buff sandstone blocks rising to a height of 72.5 meters, tapering from 2.75 meters diameter at the top to 14.32 meters at the base, making it the highest stone tower in India. In addition to its traditional use for calling the faithful to prayer, it also has a monumental purpose, since a later Nagari inscription calls it Alauld-Din's 'victory monument' (Vijava-stambha). In its present form it consists of five storeys, the topmost of the original four storeys having been replaced by two storeys during the reign of Firuz Shah Tughluq. Each storey is separated from the next by highly decorated balconies, with pendentives and inscribed bands. The three earlier storeys are each decorated differently, the lowest being of alternating angular and rounded flutings, the second with rounded flutings alone, and the third with angular flutings alone; the same vertical alignment continues, however, through all three storeys. The whole structure was originally surmounted by a cupola, which fell during an earthquake and was replaced by a new cupola in late Mughal style in the early 19th century. This was so incongruous that it was removed in 1848 and now stands on the lawns to the southeast of the minaret. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

The Iron Pillar is 7.02 meters long, 0.93 meters of which is below ground. It is built up of many hundreds of small wrought-iron blooms welded together and is the largest known composite iron object from so early a period. The remarkable lack of corrosion is attributable to the combination of several factors, among them the high corrosion-resistance of wrought iron, the climatic conditions in Delhi, and the likelihood that it was frequently anointed with ghee (melted butter). The deep cavity at the top suggests that it may at one time have been crowned by a Garuda image. The ornate Tomb of Iltutmish is in the northwest corner of the mosque. It consists of a square chamber of red sandstone with the tomb itself in the centre on a raised platform. The lower part of the interior is covered with fine Islamic carvings and arabesques. There is a marble mihrab (prayer niche) in the centre of the interior west wall. The Alai Darwaza, built from red sandstone and elaborately carved, is the southern entrance to the enlarged enclosure of the Qutb complex. The Alai Minar, to the north of the enclosure, is the base of a second minaret which was to overtop the Qutb Minar. It was begun by Alau'd-Din-Khalji, but he died before it reached the first storey and work on the structure was abandoned.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website, India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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