Fatehpur Sikri

Located at a short distance of 37kms from Agra is a fascinating historic city called Fatehpur Sikri. Built in 16th century by Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great, Fatehpur Sikri suddenly evolved from a small hill top village into the capital city of the Mughals and savoured the royal treatment for about 14 years, sadly after which it was suddenly abandoned and almost entirely forgotten until the archaeological exploration began in 1892 AD.

After good long four centuries, surprisingly the structures stand in good condition unlike many of the monuments which have crumbled over time. Akbar was the first Mughal king who built extensively which is obvious in this historic city.

The city has two distinct complexes, a palace complex and a dargah complex. The palace complex has palaces, pavilions, courtyards, gardens, pools, baths, official buildings, the treasury, the harem and soldier’s barracks. The Dargah complex comprises Jama Masjid – the main mosque, the shrine of Sufi Saint Salim Chishti and a grand gateway Buland Darwaza.

Fatehpur Sikri is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist attraction. The city has a number of places to visit which can be easily explored on a day trip from Agra. Else, there are a couple of decent options to stay too.


The Palace Complex

The Royal enclosure houses the main palaces of Fatehpur Sikri, the harem, courtyards, gardens and some state buildings.

As you enter the royal complex, the first building you come across is Diwan-i-Aam or The Hall of Public Audience. Once a building of significance, Diwan-i-Aam is a pillared pavilion in red sandstone facing a large courtyard. 

Here, the emperor held public audiences, dealt with administrative matters and dispensed justice. Also, major festivals and events were celebrated here including Prince Salim’s wedding to a Hindu princess in 1584 AD.


A small entrance behind Diwan-i-Aam leads into the ‘mardana’ or gentleman’s court where the personal palaces of the king and official buildings were located.

At the northern end of the first courtyard stands the most enigmatic structure of the complex, Diwan-i-Khas or the Hall of Private Audience, where important affairs of the state were conducted.

Inside, an unusually shaped, massive, intricately carved column rises from the centre of the ground floor. The top of the column broadens into a wide circular seat with four narrow stone-bridges connecting it to the galleries that run hallway up the wall.

Another interesting and most eye-catching structure in Fatehpur Sikri is a delicately columned five storeyed hall called Panch Mahal. The delicate pillars of the palace have intricately carved motifs. The structure has a light and airy appearance and was probably used for social occasions.

The courtyard next to Panch Mahal has an ornamental pool called Anup Talao. As the legend goes, the royal court singer Tansen used to perform from the platform at the centre of this red sandstone tank.

Right opposite to Anup Talao is Khwabgah or The Palace of Dreams, the double storeyed private palace of the emperor.

Another prominent building in the palace complex of Fatehpur Sikri is Jodha Bai’s palace. Named after the Emperor’s favourite queen Jodha Bai, the palace was probably the queen’s quarters and the harem. The roof of the fort unexpectedly bears sky blue tiles, seldom seen in Mughal buildings. The interior seems to be inspired by Rajput palaces, esp. Gwalior Fort.

To the north of Jodha Bai’s palace is a screened pavilion called hawa mahal where the women would sit and talk candidly enjoying the view and the cool breezes.

To the west of Jodha Bai’s Palace is Birbal’s palace, an elaborately decorated palace where Emperor Akbar’s advisor and confidante Birbal resided.


The Dargah Complex

Close to the palace complex is another complex where shrine of Sufi saint Salim Chishti, the congregational mosque Jama Masjid and the famous Buland Darwaza are situated.

One enters the complex either through the small eastern gateway close to the palace complex or through the grand 54 m high doorway Buland Darwaza at Jama Masjid.  Buland Darawaza is a magnificent commemorative gateway which was constructed to mark the victory of Akbar the Great in Gujarat campaign.

The doorway leads to the vast prayer area of Jama Masjid, the congregational mosque, surrounded by cells for mullahs or priests. Constructed in 1571 AD, Jama Masjid was conceived as the largest mosque in the kingdom and was the first structure to have been built here, by the Emperor Akbar followed by palatial buildings and the mansions of the noblemen further down the hill.

The Imams of Jama Masjid, Fatehpur Sikri, are referred to as Shahi Imams as the mosque was constructed by the Mughal emperor.

The architecture of the Jama Masjid displays elements of both Hindu and Islamic architecture like most other Akbari buildings.



Evolution of Fatehpur Sikri

Akbar had become king at a young age of 14 years after his father Humayun’s sudden death. At the age of 26 years and after ruling for 12 years, the Mughal Emperor had everything he could ask for except an heir!

Unfortunately, none of the infant sons of the great king survived. Helpless and sad, Akbar sought divine help and in his bid he visited a sage called Salim Chishti who lived in a small hill-top village called Sikri, about 37 kms from the capital city of Agra. The sage prophesied that Akbar would be blessed with three sons in time to come. Soon the emperor’s Rajput queen, borne him a healthy son.

Akbar was delighted and to express his gratitude towards the sage, he named his son Salim after the holy man and decided to transform the small and humble hill-top village into a royal city with all the amenities and luxuries.

He ordered the construction of Jama Masjid, a congregational mosque which was conceived to be the largest in the kingdom.

Akbar was known to be good builder and he personally supervised the construction of the mosque and established new city around and called it ‘Fatehabad’.

When Akbar returned after his triumphant campaign in Gujarat in 1572 AD, he named the city ‘Fatehpur Sikri’ (City of Victory) and built the grand commemorative doorway of ‘Buland Darwaza’ at the Jama Masjid.

The Mughal capital was shifted from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri. However, suddenly after about 14 years, in 1585 AD, Akbar abandoned Fatehpur Sikri due to some unknown reason and chose Lahore, now in Pakistan, as his next capital city. It is speculated that paucity of water, due to drying up of surrounding lake, could be the reason behind the emperor’s decision.

Fatehpur Sikri was suddenly deserted and it remained dead with almost no activity as if waiting for the emperor to return until 1619 AD when once again it became the capital when Akbar’s son Jahangir took refuge here from the plague that had devastated Agra.

However, this was not to last very long either! After just three months, the city was almost forgotten till its archaeological exploration began in 1892 AD.


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