The Red Fort of Delhi, witness to empires’ rise and fall, ‘Lal Qila’ once adorned with the Kohinoor, remains a UNESCO-listed Indo-Islamic architectural marvel.

It has been the landmark of grandeur, the backdrop to wars and struggles, and the rise and fall of empires. The fort was the centerpiece of power, the artery of life and commerce which gave impetus to this new capital of the Mughal Empire. Throughout its 380-odd years of existence,

Built by the Mughals at the zenith of their power, it has been visited by many friends and rivals who took away prized artifacts like the peacock throne and the Kohinoor. With the fall of the last Mughal, the British repurposed the Red Fort and its pleasure palaces into military barracks. This iconic fortress in Delhi has witnessed the proverbial change of its many guards.

The illustrious Red Fort of Delhi stands proudly as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, exemplifying Indo-Islamic architectural marvel.

During the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the capital shifted from Agra to Shahjahanabad (now Old Delhi). Construction of his palace began on May 12, 1638, completing on April 6, 1648, serving as the fortified palace of Shahjahanabad, the new capital of India’s fifth Mughal Emperor.

Initially named the ‘Blessed Fort’ or ‘Qila-i-Mubārak’, ‘Qila-i-Shahjahanabad’, or ‘Qila-i-Mualla’, the fort served as the residence of the imperial family.

The name “Red Fort” translates from the Hindustani Lāl Qila, owing to its red sandstone walls. “Lal” signifies “Red” in Hindustani (Indian), while “Qalàh” originates from Arabic, meaning “Fortress”. Initially red and white, Emperor Shah Jahan’s preferred colors, its design is credited to architect Ustad Ahmad Lahori, renowned for constructing the Taj Mahal.

The Red Fort complex epitomizes the Indo-Islamic architectural style and culture, showcasing the pinnacle of Mughal creativity. Emperor Shah Jahan elevated Mughal artistry to new heights. The palace’s design draws from Indo-Islamic architecture, with each pavilion showcasing architectural elements typical of Mughal buildings, blending Persian and native Indian traditions seamlessly.

Archaeological excavations at the Red Fort have revealed artifacts from the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture dating back to ancient India. The most significant surviving structures include the walls, ramparts, main gates, audience halls, and the imperial apartments, situated along the picturesque riverbank of Yamuna.

Adorned with grand halls like the Diwan-e-Aam and Diwan-e-Khas, lavish living quarters, entertainment areas, gardens, and markets, the Red Fort is a blend of red sandstone and white marble, cherished by the Mughal royals. Its fortifications and ramparts, clad in red sandstone, contrast with the marble and limestone of the palace and living quarters, creating a stunning symphony of colors and textures.

The legendary peacock throne of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, housing the coveted Kohinoor, stood as a pinnacle treasure of the Red Fort. Named Takht-i-taus, it boasted over 2500 pounds of gold and 500 pounds of rare gemstones. Coveted by visitors worldwide, its magnificence captured the gaze of all who beheld it.

The Lahori Gate, the principal entrance to the Red Fort, derives its name from its alignment towards the city of Lahore. During Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s rule, the gate’s aesthetics transformed with the addition of a barbican, likened by Emperor Shah Jahan to “a veil drawn across the face of a beautiful woman.”

The Delhi Gate, serving as the southern public entrance, mirrors the layout and appearance of the Lahori Gate. Two life-size stone elephants, positioned on either side, face each other, adding to the grandeur of the entrance.

Chhatta Chowk, also known as Meena Bazaar, served as the marketplace during the Mughal era, offering silk, jewelry, and items for the imperial household. Previously named Bazaar-i-Musaqqaf or Chatta-bazaar, signifying a roofed market, it played a vital role in the bustling commercial life of the Red Fort.

The inner main court, Nakkar Khana, is enclosed by guarded galleries. Opposite lies the Diwan-i-Aam, the Public Audience Hall. On the east wall stands the Naubat Khana, or Nakkar Khana, where music is played at scheduled times, requiring all but royalty to dismount. Tragically, later Mughal kings Jahandar Shah (1712–13) and Farrukhsiyar (1713–19) met their demise here, purportedly murdered.

Diwan-i-Am - Western Facade - Red Fort - Delhi 2014-05-13 3194.JPG

The Diwan-i-Khas, or Hall of Private Audience, served as a venue for official matters and royal interactions. A gate on the north side of the Diwan-i-Aam leads to the inner court of the palace (Jalau Khana) and the Diwan-i-Khas. Constructed of white marble, it’s adorned with intricate inlays of precious stones, reflecting opulence and grandeur.

Diwan-i-Khas, Fort Delhi | Agra fort, Red fort, Fort

The Moti Masjid of Lal Qila (Red Fort), the Pearl Mosque, stands as a later addition to the Red Fort, constructed in 1659 by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. This small yet elegant structure, crafted from white marble, features three domes and a three-arched screen leading to the courtyard, showcasing exquisite craftsmanship and architectural finesse.

The hammams served as the imperial baths, comprising three domed rooms with patterned white marble floors. Divided by corridors and adorned with domes, they feature colored glass skylights for illumination. The rooms flanking the entrance likely served as baths for royal children, while the eastern apartment, with three fountain basins, was a dressing room. Each room housed a central fountain, and one contained a marble reservoir built into the wall.

Hammam (Royal Baths), Red Fort, Delhi | One weekend while pu… | Flickr

Hammam (Royal Baths), Red Fort, Delhi | The hammam of the Re… | Flickr

Adjacent to the older Salimgarh Fort, built by Islam Shah Suri in 1546, the Red Fort forms the Red Fort Complex. Its private apartments feature pavilions connected by the Nahr-i-Behisht (Stream of Paradise), a continuous water channel. Its innovative planning and architectural style influenced buildings and gardens in Rajasthan, Delhi, and Agra. The Red Fort’s historical significance extends to events impacting its geo-cultural region.

File:Red Fort, Delhi, India 6.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

The Red Fort of Shahajanabad has borne witness to the proverbial change of its many guards.

More than a mere monument, the Red Fort symbolizes the heart of the Mughal Empire for over two centuries until British colonization. Enduring numerous upheavals, it witnessed power struggles and repeated looting. Following the decline of the Mughal dynasty’s administrative and fiscal structure after Aurangzeb’s reign, the fort began a period of degeneration, persisting until India’s Independence.

The treasures of the Red Fort, including jewels and artwork, suffered plunder during Nadir Shah’s invasion in 1747 and again by the British after the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Many of these items ended up in private collections or British institutions like the British Museum, the British Library, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Notably, items such as Emperor Shah Jahan’s jade wine cup and Emperor Bahadur Shah II’s crown are now housed in London. Despite requests for restitution, the British government has thus far denied them.

Wine cup of Shah Jahan - Wikipedia

India - Crown of the Emperor Bahadur Shah II

The last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was coronated at the Red Fort in 1837. However, his authority was limited to the palace confines, devoid of any true empire. With no army, he immersed himself in poetry, calligraphy, and spiritual endeavors. Upon his passing, he was laid to rest in Burma, far removed from his Red Fort residence.

Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal who would rather have been a poet

Last Mughal Emperor Who Ruled Delhi, Bahadur Shah Zafar a Romantic and Sad Character - HubPages

The Red Fort stands as a witness to the transformation of Indian history under British rule. It was here that the first celebration of Indian independence took place, an event still commemorated to this day.

A monument of immense national significance, the Red Fort holds a revered place in India’s collective consciousness. Each year, on the 15th of August, India’s Independence Day, the Prime Minister of India raises the national flag at the Red Fort and delivers a speech broadcasted nationwide from its historic ramparts.

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