Completed in 1538 AD during Humayun’s rule, Purana Qila fort was originally the inner citadel of a city called Din Panah. After Humayun was defeated in 1540 by Sher Shah Suri, the founder of the Suri dynasty, the city was renamed Shergarh and several more structures were added to the complex. Although Sher Shah Suri’s reign lasted for just five years, the sixth city of Delhi flourished during this period.
The origins of Purana Qila appear to stretch much further back in time. Excavations in the 1950s, 60s and 70s produced numerous examples of painted grey ware dating as far back as 1500 BC, so this site appears to have been in continuous habitation from at least the Mauryan to Mughal periods and beyond.
At the beginning of the 20th century 1,900 people lived inside the fort in a village called Indrapat, which has long being associated with Indraprastha of the Mahabharata. The inhabitants inside the fort walls were moved out (with compensation) in 1913 when the fort was turned into an archaeological site much as we see it today. For a brief period in 1947 both Purana Qila and the nearby Humayun’s Tomb became refugee camps for approximately 200,000 Muslims migrating to newly founded Pakistan.
The fort walls extend for 1.5km with three arched gateways; the Bara Darwaza (Big Gate and main entrance) facing west, the Humayun Gate facing south, and Talaqui Gate (Forbidden Gate) facing north.
The interior of the fort is mostly open with trees and lawns, it’s a very pleasant location to get away from the crowds of Delhi, although at weekends the site itself does start to get quite populated !
There are three principal structures within the citadel to see; the Qila-i-Kohna Masjid, the Sher Mandal, and the Baoli.
The Qila-i-Kohna Masjid is considered one of the finest mosques in Delhi and is by far the largest and most elaborate of the Lodi-style five bay mosques.
Built by Sher Shah in 1541, this is the best preserved building in Purana Qila and is well worth spending an extended period of time admiring all the architectural features. The central bay is domed, with sixteen-sided drum niches decorated with ceramic tiles. You can still make out some of the intricate painting that was applied to the stonework itself.
Unlike many other mosques, all the delicate carvings here have been applied to the stone rather than incised plaster, and overall there is far more elaborate surface decoration than can be seen elsewhere up to this date.
A new architectural development to be found at the Qila-i-Kohna Masjid are the doorways inside the three central arches that have been deeply recessed. The bays next to the central one are smaller in size, with very shallow domed ceilings.
The mosque is quite rightly the focal point of any visit here, so being able to photograph any part of the structure without any people in the frame is certainly a challenge. If you’re looking to do that kind of photography be prepared for a long and patient visit to this site 🙂
A short distance from the mosque are a series of underground chambers linked by an arcade under the fort wall. It appears as though much of this was plastered at one point in time but the exact purpose remains unknown.
Believed to be for domestic purposes rather than military or religious, the Sher Mandal is one of the earliest such structures in Delhi. Built of red sandstone, the double storeyed octagonal tower was instigated by Barbur as a personal observatory and library for his son Humayun.
Construction was started by Farid Sher Shah (hence the name of this building), but he died during the initial phase and the structure was completed by Humayun a few years later, albeit at a lesser height than was originally planned.
It is within the Sher Shah Mandal that Humayun is believed to have met with his fatal accident on 24th January 1556. The story goes that he answered the call to prayer far too hastily whilst on top of his private observatory star-gazing, and fell headlong down the stairs from the second floor to his death. Humayun’s Tomb complex lies a short distance from here.
Nowhere near as impressive as the Agrasen Ki Baoli, this step-well appears to be quite deep with recessed arches built into the walls on the way down. The well for drawing water is at the back on the far side by a vertical wall.
The baoli is still functioning, and is regularly used for watering the lawns inside the complex.
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