Fatehpur Sikri is a fascinating ghost city built in the 16th century; 37 km from Agra Akbar the great, who at 26 years did not have an heir, founded this historic site.
Fatehpur Sikri, the "City of Victory", sits 35 kilometers from Agra on a low hill of the Vindhya mountain range. Before the reign of Akbar (1556-1605), the Mughal King who built Fatehpur Sikri, the site of the future city had already earned an auspicious reputation. Babar, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty and Akbar's grandfather, had won a battle here over Rana Sanga of Mewar. In gratitude he named the area Shukri, which means "thanks". In Akbar's time the site was occupied by a small village of stonecutters and was the home of Shaikh Salim Chishti, a Muslim astrologer and Sufi Saint. In 1568 Akbar visited the Shaikh to ask for the birth of an heir. The Shaikh replied that an heir would be born soon. Sure enough, Akbar's wife gave birth to a boy on August 30, 1569. In gratitude, Akbar named the boy Salim after the astrologer, and, two years later decided to move the capital to Sikri.
Of course, the decision to build a new capital at Sikri was determined by more than sentiment. It was a strategic location in Rajasthan that put Akbar and his armies closer to the Gujarat region--the next object of Akbar's expansionist dreams. Gujarat was desirable because its coastal cities were ideally suited to take advantage of the lucrative trade to Arab lands.
Construction of the new capital began in earnest in 1571 and continued for about fifteen years. During much of this time Akbar made the area his home, but strangely, in 1586, Akbar abandoned his new capital forever. The reasons are not entirely clear, but the most plausible explanation is that Akbar needed to move his base of operations to wage the war against Kabul, which he occupied in 1585, and Kandahar, which fell in 1595.
After Akbar's departure the city was used only sparingly in the coming centuries. In the early 17th century it became the home of several queen mothers. In 1619 Emperor Jahangir camped here for three months while a plague raged in nearby Agra. Ninety years later, the city was refurbished to host the coronation of Muhammad Shah (1709-48). After that, the city was largely abandoned until Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India for the British from 1898 to 1905, sponspored an archaeological survey and restoration efforts.
In present times the city has become one of the chief tourist attractions of India. However, it is impossible to capture in pictures a single iconic image of the city, in the way that the Taj Mahal can be framed in its totality in the viewfinder of any camera. Fatehpur Sikri is so large and decentralized that the city can only be experienced as a series of changing surroundings as one travels from courtyard to courtyard. There are no broad boulevards or landmark buildings that can be constantly kept in view when experiencing the city. At Fatehpur Sikri, there are very few buildings that can be seen from all four sides in isolation--among them the Diwan-i-Khas and the Sonakra Makan. Most buildings are fused together in such a way that there are a multitude of routes to reach any point. It is almost if the figure-ground of a modern city is reversed: open spaces are non-continuous islands in a network of buildings that flow together like streets.
The mystical beauty of the Mughal styles of the architecture of the Fatehpur Sikri provides a greater charm to your Tour to Uttar Pradesh. Perhaps one of the lesser known tourist attractions of the Mughal reign, a trip to Uttar Pradesh can never be said to be complete if your tour itinerary to Uttar Pradesh does not include a Tour to Fatehpur Sikri. Located at a distance of around 26 kms to the west of the main city of Agra, a trip to this ancient land mark reveals much of the History of Fatehpur Sikri and also throws light on the history of the Mughals in India.
The History of Fatehpur Sikri dates back to the reign of Akbar, arguably one of the greatest and most charismatic rulers amongst the Great Mughals. Blessed with almost all the joys of life, the great Mughal emperor was, however, without an heir to the throne. It was this worry that led him to travel barefoot to Ajmer to seek the blessings of the great Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chisti, who eventually blessed the emperor with an heir to the Mughal throne in India, who was to be later known as Jahangir. The entirety of the complex of Fatehpur Sikri was built as a kind of homage to this great Sufi saint, after whom the city was also named, an act that was a mark of gratitude shown by Akbar. According to modern historians, work on the construction of the complex began around the year 1571, a time when the prowess of the Mughals was at their peak. Once the construction of the fort was complete, the entirety of the complex of the Fatehpur Sikri began to serve as an additional capital to that of the Red Fort at Agra, which had till now been regarded as the only capital of the Mughal Rule.
The period of the Mughal rule with their capital at Fatehpur Sikri is regarded by modern historians as one of the most important periods in the annals of the History of India. It is said that many of the important administrative, financial as well as the military reforms of the Mughal era was conceptualized and implemented during this period. It is said that the fort was abandoned at around the year of 1585, when a severe scarcity of water forced the people of the fort to look for a new settlement. Now one of the most popular tourist attractions of Uttar Pradesh, a trip to the Fatehpur Sikri in Uttar Pradesh in India is a definite must include since the monument is today a part of the prestigious World Heritage Sites as declared by UNESCO.
At Sikri, the various royal palaces have been built in Gujarati and Rajasthani architectural styles, using ornate columns, fanciful jali work (intricately perforated decorative stone screens), sumptuous carving, and surface ornamentation. Most of the buildings located inside Fatehpur Sikri are a unique blend of architectural traditions flourishing at that time in India. These small palaces are largely a sequence of connected rectangular courtyards; these are aligned with the polar axes and so have to be grouped in a staggered formation across, the top of the narrow diagonal ridge. The overwhelmingly Hindu architectural vocabulary, however, cannot conceal the Islamic norms followed in the large-scale planning that is supposed to have derived from Arab and Central Asia tent compartments!
Fatehpur Sikri sits on rocky ridge, 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) in length and 1 km (0.62 mi) wide and palace city is surrounded by a 6 km (3.7 mi) wall on three sides with the fourth bordered by a lake. Its architects were R Roy and Dhruv Chawla and was constructed using Indian principles. The buildings of Fatehpur Sikri show a synthesis of various regional schools of architectural craftsmanship such as Gujarat and Bengal. This was because indigenous craftsmen were used for the construction of the buildings. Influences from Hindu and Jain architecture are seen hand in hand with Islamic elements. The building material used in all the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri, palace-city complex, is the locally quarried red sandstone, known as 'Sikri sandstone'. It is accessed through gates along the 5 miles (8.0 km) long fort wall, namely, Delhi Gate, the Lal Gate, the Agra Gate and Birbal's Gate, Chandanpal Gate, The Gwalior Gate, the Tehra Gate, the Chor Gate and the Ajmeri Gate.The palace contains summer palace and winter palace for queen jodha.
Some of the important buildings in this city, both religious and secular are:
Buland Darwaza: Set into the south wall of congregational mosque, the Buland Darwaza at Fatehpur Sikri is 55 metres (180 ft) high, from the outside, gradually making a transition to a human scale in the inside. The gate was added around five years after the completion of the mosque c. 1576-1577 as a victory arch, to commemorate Akbar's successful Gujarat campaign. It carries two inscriptions in the archway, one of which reads: "Isa, Son of Mariam said: The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses on it. He who hopes for an hour may hope for eternity. The world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen". The central portico comprises three arched entrances, with the largest one, in the centre, is known locally as the Horseshoe Gate, after the custom of nailing horseshoes to its large wooden doors for luck. Outside the giant steps of the Buland Darwaza to the left is a deep well.
Jama Masjid: It is a Jama Mosque meaning the congregational mosque and was perhaps one of the first buildings to be constructed in the complex, as its epigraph gives AH 979(A.D. 1571-72) as the date of its completion, with a massive entrance to the courtyard, the Buland-Darwaza added some five years later. It was built in the manner of Indian mosques, with iwans around a central courtyard. A distinguishing feature is the row of chhatri over the sanctuary. There are three mihrabs in each of the seven bays, while the large central mihrab is covered by a dome, it is decorated with white marble inlay, in geometric patterns.
Tomb of Salim Chishti: A white marble encased tomb of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti (1478-1572), within the Jama Masjid’s sahn, courtyard. The single-storey structure is built around a central square chamber, within which is the grave of the saint, under an ornate wooden canopy encrusted with mother-of-pearl mosaic. Surrounding it is a covered passageway for circumambulation, with carved Jalis, stone pierced screens all around with intricate geometric design and an entrance to the south. The tomb is influenced by earlier mausolea of the early 15th century Gujarat Sultanate period. Other striking features of the tomb are white marble serpentine brackets, which support sloping eaves around the parapet.
On the left of the tomb, to the east, stands a red sandstone tomb of Islam Khan I, son of Shaikh Badruddin Chisti and grandson of Shaikh Salim Chishti, who became a general in the Mughal army in the reign of Jahangir. The tomb is topped by a dome and thirty-six small domed chattris and contains a number of graves, some unnamed, all male descendants of Shaikh Salim Chisti.
Diwan-i-Aam: Diwan-i-Aam or Hall of Public Audience, is a building typology found in many cities where the ruler meets the general public. In this case, it is a pavilion-like multi-bayed rectangular structure fronting a large open space. South west of the Diwan-i-Am and next to the Turkic Sultana's House stand Turkic Baths.
Diwan-i-Khas: the Diwan-i-Khas or Hall of Private Audience, is a plain square building with four chhatris on the roof. However it is famous for its central pillar, which has a square base and an octagonal shaft, both carved with bands of geometric and floral designs, further its thirty-six serpentine brackets support a circular platform for Akbar, which is connected to each corner of the building on the first floor, by four stone walkways. It is here that Akbar had representatives of different religions discuss their faiths and gave private audience.
Ibadat Khana: (House of Worship) was a meeting house built in 1575 CE by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, where the foundations of a new Syncretistic faith, Din-e-Ilahi were laid by Akbar.
Anup Talao: Anup Talao was built by Raja Anup Singh Sikarwar A ornamental pool with a central platform and four bridges leading up to it. Some of the important buildings of the royal enclave are surround by it including, Khwabgah(House of Dreams) Akbar's residence, Panch Mahal, a five-storey palace, Diwan-i-Khas(Hall of Private Audience), Ankh Michauli and the Astrologer's Seat, in the south-west corner of the Pachisi Court.
Hujra-i-Anup Talao: Said to be the residence of Akbar's Muslim wife, although this is disputed due to its small size. Mariam-uz-Zamani's Palace: The building of Akbar's Rajput wives, including Mariam-uz-Zamani, shows Gujarati influence and is built around a courtyard, with special care being taken to ensure privacy.
Naubat Khana: Also known as Naqqar Khana meaning a drum house, where musician used drums to announce the arrival of the Emperor. It is situated ahead of the Hathi Pol Gate or the Elephant Gate, the south entrance to the complex, suggesting that it was the imperial entrance.
Pachisi Court: A square marked out as a large board game, the precursor to modern day Ludo game where people served as the playing pieces.
Panch Mahal: A five-storied palatial structure, with the tiers gradually diminishing in size, till the final one, which is a single large-domed chhatri. Originally pierced stone screens faced the facade and probably sub-divided the interior as well, suggesting it was built for the ladies of the court. The floors are supported by intricately carved columns on each level, totalling to 176 columns in all.
Birbal's House: The house of Akbar's favourite minister, who was a Hindu. Notable features of the building are the horizontal sloping sunshades or chajjas and the brackets which support them.
Hiran Minar: The Hiran Minar, or Elephant Tower, is a circular tower covered with stone projections in the form of elephant tusks. Traditionally it was thought to have been erected as a memorial to the Emperor Akbar's favourite elephant. However, it was probably a used as a starting point for subsequent mile posts.
Other buildings included Taksal (mint), Daftar Khana (Records Office), Karkhana (royal workshop), Khazana (Treasury), Hammam (Turkic Baths), Darogha's Quarters, stables, Caravan sarai, Hakim's quarters, etc.
Apart from these prime Attractions in Fatehpur Sikri are Diwan-I-Am, Turkish Sultana’s House, The Treasury, Daulat khana-I-khas, Palace of Jodha Bai, Hawa Mahal And Nagina Masjid, Birbal’s Palace, Sunehra Makan and The Jama Masjid. Today regarded as one of the most important buildings amongst a list of World Heritage Structures, which has been brought forward by the UNESCO, a visit to the Fatehpur Sikri in Agra in India remains one of the fondest dreams of Indians from all around the world.