The Red Fort and palace within are considered by many to be the pinnacle of Shah Jahan’s building projects, aside from the Taj Mahal of course. Started in 1638, the chief architect was Ustad Ahmad Lahori who had previously worked alongside the Persian architect Ustad Isa Khan Effendi on the Taj.
The main entrances to the fort complex were Delhi Gate (leading to the old city), and Lahori Gate which was aligned with Chandi Chowk and the road to Lahore, and is the public entrance today.
The plan of the fort broadly falls into four quarters :
- Eastern quarter – reserved for the Emperor and his household
- Southern quarter – the zenna, only accessible to women
- Northern quarter – where the emperor carried out his business, and only partially public
- Western quarter – the public area, with workshops, stables, bazaars etc.
At the heart of these quarters is the Diwan-Am courtyard, where the emperor held his daily court and was accessible to the general public.
What follows are the highlights of the fort as captured through my lens. I’m afraid it follows no particular route as I tended to walk about quite a bit, but I have managed to capture at least some shots of the most important structures in the fort complex.
Just beyond Lahori Gate as you enter the fort, Shah Jahan made a specific request that the main public market should be modelled on a Persian market, and today it still remains a market for shopkeepers selling souvenirs to passing tourists.
Some of the alcoves high up still have traces of paint with some floral motifs which are worth looking out for.
Also known as the Drum House, it is here that visitors to the court had to dismount from their horses.
Whilst the building itself may not appear to be anything special, it’s beauty lies in the wonderfully decorated ceiling with an intricate geometric pattern.
Always remember to look up when you’re in buildings like this !
At the very heart of the buildings within the fort complex, this is where the Emperor held court with his public audience. It was clearly built to impress, with visitors having dismounted from their horses then walking some distance from the Naubat Khana along a straight path to reach the hall.
Even more impressive is the heavily decorated jharokha on the far side of the Diwan-i-am on the eastern wall. This is a white marble canopy with a Bengal style roof, with much of the marble inlaid with semi precious stones. This is where the emperor was seated when he was holding court, the audience ceremony was known as Jharokha Darshan.
Photographing the Jharokha is near impossible as it is protected by a glass screen that seemingly hasn’t been cleaned for decades.
Also known as the Coloured Palace, this was once richly decorated and served as part of the imperial harem.
Originally known as the Imtiyaz Mahal (meaning Palace of Distinction), in 1857 this became a mess hall after the British occupied the fort.
You can only view this building from the outside pavement, no access is permitted within. Below the Rang Mahal is a basement which women used during the hot summers.
Khas Mahal and Diwan-i-Khas
Also known as the Special Palace, the Khas Mahal was the Emperor’s private residence and where he slept. The building is divided into three sections; the Chamber of Telling Beads, the wardrobe, and the sleeping chamber.
The interior is richly decorated with colourful floral motifs, and a partially gilded ceiling.
Also known as the Hall of Private Audiences, the Diwan-i-Khas was where the Emperor would receive state guests and courtiers. The original ceiling was inlaid with silver and gold, but was subsequently stripped during later financial crises. The famous Peacock Throne once stood in this hall.
Through the center of the hall once flowed water, known as the Stream of Paradise. At its zenith this building must have been beyond imagination, and worthy of the inscription that exists inside the central hall :
“If there be a paradise on earth, this is it, this is it, this is it.”
Sadly the building was heavily plundered after the Indian rebellion of 1857. The throne, carpets and many other items went missing. What we see today is a shell of what used to be here, and restoration efforts continue to try and sensitively inject back some of the grandeur that once existed here.
As before, you can no longer walk within the Khas Mahal or Diwan-i-Khas. I’m sure during my previous visit back in 2005 this was possible, but with the sheer volume of visitors that the fort receives each year it’s perfectly understandable that steps have to be taken to protect these structures.
The bath house, unfortunately closed to the public , so you can only get a restricted glimpse from outside.
Built by Aurangzeb and also known as the Pearl Mosque, this is also closed to the public. So all I have is a shot of the closed door 🙂
One of the last building projects by Shah Jahan, again you can only view this building from the outside.
Sawan and Bhadon Pavilions
Almost identical, these two white pavilions are either side of the Hayat Bakhsh (see below).
Sawan and Bhadon are the two rainy months on the Hindu calendar.
The area around the Hayat Bakhsh is the only surviving garden, the pool surrounding the pavilion was built by Bahadur Shah II.
Directly behind the Hayat Bakhsh are four large barrack blocks, they in many respects dominate the interior of the fort so you can’t miss them. These buildings are slowly being converted into museums, and as of January 2019 two of them are now open.
One of the exhibitions marks the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar. It’s an incredibly powerful and moving exhibition, they’ve done a fantastic job and I hope it remains in place for many years to come. No photographs of this, it didn’t seem appropriate to be taking photos within the exhibition.
Abandoned / Demolished Areas
As the Mughal Empire declined much of the interior of the palace became derelict, and in the 1860s what buildings of note were set aside and protected whilst the rest of the interior was cleared to make way for army offices and barracks.
Much of the area at the far north and south of the fort remains in this state. I explored the northern extent for a little time, clearly there were once army structures here that would appear to have been partially demolished removed quite recently.
I’m wondering if this area is going to be developed soon, for sure the fort would benefit from having a decent shop and restaurant/cafe area.
The Red Fort in Delhi is certainly worth visiting when you’re in the city, although I did find the entrance fee to be a little expensive (for a foreigner) considering what there is to see here, especially as you can no longer walk within most of the structures. The wonderful museums in the converted barrack blocks do make up for that to a certain extent. You also need a little bit of imagination to equate what you see today with the former splendour that the palace must once have had.
Viewing the external walls of the fort is free for anyone to do, and is well worth doing in the late afternoon during the golden hour for photography. This is when you really get to appreciate why this is called the Red Fort.
If you still haven’t had enough of the fort during daylight hours, although the area in front of the fort is closed off at sunset you can still get some ok shots of Lahori Gate lit up at night from the main road.
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