We started off from Agra on a bright day, looking forward to visit the ancient city of the legendary ruler Akbar. Fatehpur Sikri is around 37 km from Agra. I boarded a local bus from the Idgah bus stop, which took just a little more than an hour to reach Fatehpur Sikri. The bus stopped at the foothill of Fatehpur Sikri, the palace being at a walking distance from there. The old city at the foothill of the palace is a maze of gullies, sequined with small shops. An old gate with a clock marks the entrance to the old city. I wandered the gullies to get a sense of the place and was drawn into the nostalgic times of the Mughals.
Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughals during the reign of Akbar the Great. It was built by Akbar in 1569 and was the capital of the Mughal empire from 1571 to 1585. It took 15 years to complete the construction. Historians believe that Akbar took great interest in architecture and oversaw the construction of Fatehpur Sikri. Prior to this, Akbar's capital was Agra, and it's an interesting story as to why the capital was shifted.
Legend has it that Akbar, the great Mughal emperor, visited the Sufi saint Salim Chishti to seek blessings for a heir to the throne. The saint blessed him and told him that Akbar would have a son soon. His first son, Salim (Jahangir), was named after the saint. To honour the revered saint, Akbar moved his capital from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri. The Persian word 'fateh' means victory. The architect of the palace was much inspired by the Persian architectural principles. The palace was built of red sandstone, which was easily available at the area.
Fatehpur Sikri stands on a rocky hill (3 km long and 1 km wide) overlooking the town. It has some of the best-preserved Mughal constructions in the country. The palace has many interesting buildings and pavilions that serve different purposes. It was at Fatehpur Sikri that the legend of Akbar and his famous nine courtiers (the “Navaratnas” or “nine jewels”) began. Surprisingly, the palace was abandoned in 1585. Historians believe that the scarcity of water in the area, combined with proximity to Rajputana territory on the northwest, was the main reason for the sudden move. Akbar moved his capital to Lahore, before moving back to Agra in 1598, but he did not move back to Fatehpur Sikri.
Fatehpur Sikri's tale of glory was short-lived. But surprisingly, the palace has survived so many centuries in a good state. To me the place looked forlorn, as if it were nothing more than a glimpse of the past, but has braved the ravages of time. Several craftsmen and artisans from different regions of the country were involved in creating this magnificent construction, which lends richness to the architecture and design.
Here are some important attractions inside Fatehpur Sikri:
Buland Darwaza: The colossal gate on the southern side of the Jama Masjid is known as Buland Darwaza. It was added only five years after the completion of the Masjid. The gate is 55 metre high and remains one of the tallest gates in India. It is made of red sandstone, like most structures, there is beautified with fine white-marble inlays and designs.
Jama Masjid: The Masjid was one of the first buildings to be constructed in the complex. The mosque was built in a typical Mughal style and has a spacious central courtyard with walls on all sides. The mosque looks plain but is decorated with beautiful marble inlays over the red sandstone.
Tomb of Salim Chishti:This much revered Sufi saint was believed to have special powers. Akbar moved his capital from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri to honour him, after being blessed with a son. His tomb is in the courtyard of the mosque. The tomb is made of white marble. It is one of the few buildings here made of marble rather than sandstone. The tomb is built around a central chamber that contains a false grave of the saint. Its construction began in 1571 and was completed after 15 years. Even today, visit this holy site, believing that prayers made inside the tomb are granted.
Diwan-i-Am: The hall of public audience was a place where the emperor met the populace and listened to their problems. A pavilion-like structure in red sandstone opens to a spacious courtyard, where the public would come to listen to and interact with the emperor.
Diwan-i-Khas: The hall of private audience is one of the most remarkable buildings in the complex. The room has a single pillar at the center, which has an octagonal shaft with intricate designs. The pillar is a mesmerising sight and a beauty in itself. This hall was where the emperor held meetings with his courtiers and guests.
Mariam-uz-Zamani's Palace: This was the residence of Akbar's first wife, Mariam. The palace is built around a courtyard and exhibits Gujarati influence. Special care was taken to offer privacy to the royal lady.Panch Mahal: This is another beautiful and unexpected architectural marvel in the palace. This five-storey building consists of pillared pavilions that decrease in size as you go up.
Birbal's House: Birbal was a Hindu minister of Akbar. He was Akbar's favourite minister, known for his wit and sagacity.Turkish Sultana House: The interior of this elegant house, surrounded by a verandah, has well designed geometrical and floral motifs. The now-empty columns were once said to have glasses and that produced mesmerising reflections. I noticed a popular carving of birds and lion on a wall, whose heads have disappeared. These were believed to have been made of gold.
Hiran Minar or Elephant Tower: This tower is at the base of the hill and stands at 21.34 metre height. there are 53 steps leading up to the top. The tower is studded with what looks like numerous elephant tusks, but they are not. The tower got its name after Jahangir converted the Polo ground to a Hiran (antelope) Park, the site where the tower stands now.
Fatehpur Sikri is an interesting site for both explorers and casual travelers, as it has many monuments of historical significance.