The vast majority of visitors to Fatehpur Sikri are only able to see the palace complex and perhaps the Jami Masjid. To see the whole of Fatehpur Sikri would take far longer than a single day, but on my visit I was able to explore a little beyond these two main sites.
There are many buildings scattered within the 6km perimeter wall of the city, to see them all on foot would also be an immensely tiring undertaking. Probably the most interesting area outside of the palace and Jami Masjid is the lower palace area perched on, and continuing down, the north-facing slope.
This blog will focus on some of the structures that can be seen in this area. For a brief explanation of the history of Fatehpur Sikri and what can be seen within the palace complex, please see my blog : Fatehpur Sikri – An Emperor’s Ghost City.
Faizi and Fazl’s Houses
Following the east wall of the Jami Masjid and heading north there are a couple of small buildings very close to the north wall of the Mosque.
Some historians assign these two houses and attached baths to Abul Fazl (1551-1602), Akbar’s chronicler, and Faizi (1547-1595). However, there is absolutely no hard evidence for this, and an alternative suggestion is that they may have been the Princes’ Nursery. If true, this would be where the royal princes lived after they had become too old to live in the Zenana.
Continuing ahead and starting to descend down the hill you will reach Hathi Pol on your left.
Hathi Pol means ‘Elephant Gate’, named after the large statues of elephants on the exterior face of the gate. This strongly suggests that the gate was the northern imperial entrance into the city.
The elephants were not sculptured but in fact built of rubble and then faced with stone slabs on which the elephants were cut from. Unfortunately both elephants are headless, decapitated by Aurangzeb.
Heading through Hathi Pol and down alongside the Caravanserai you will reach what I consider to be one of the iconic monuments of Fatehpur Sikri, but one that is infrequently visited.
This curious tower is called the Hiran Minar, or Deer Tower. At a height of 72 feet, it dominates the flat landscape to the north, east and west, and is studded all around with stone imitations of elephant tusks.
Surprisingly, the precise purpose of this tower remains unclear, but a number of theories have been presented.
Abul Fazl records that in all Mughal camps a lamp was lit on a tall pole, and so it is possible that the Hiran Minar may have been hit up at night with small lamps attached to the imitation stone elephant tusks. Quite how they would achieve this on the hundreds of tusks protruding from the side of the tall tower leads me to doubt this possibility.
A single light could of course have emitted from the very top of the tower quite easily, but it then doesn’t explain those ‘elephant tusks’.
Another theory is that this was built by Akbar in memory of a favourite elephant, and used by him as a shooting tower. There was once a lake further north from the tower, and so would have been an attractive environment for game including deer and antelope. With this theory, the imitation elephant tusks would have been used to display the heads of hunting trophies.
A third theory is that this tower signified the start or end of someone’s journey, and is therefore an elaborate (imperial) Kos Minar.
A Kos is an ancient Indian unit of distance representing approximately 3.22 kilometers (2 miles), and during the Mughal period a network of Kos Minars existed throughout northern India and beyond to assist travelers on their route. Most of them are simple solid stone structures about 30 feet high, but close to the start or end points of a route they could be far more significant structures with associated buildings offering stables, lodging and food.
You can read a lot more about the history, function and distribution of Kos Minars in my blog : The Kos Minar – once showing the way but now becoming lost.
As this tower is located directly in front of the main northerly entrance to the city, the ‘kos minar on steroids’ theory stand up quite well, especially with the Caravanserai situated right next door.
I would also go as far to suggest that we shouldn’t be looking at this structure as having one single purpose, it could quite easily have served a multitude of purposes that perhaps encompasses all the theories I’ve outlined above.
A Caravanserai is a roadside inn where travelers could rest and recover from the day’s journey. They supported the flow of commerce, information and people across the network of trade routes in India and beyond.
The Caravanserai at Fatehpur Sikri is quite well preserved, with a central courtyard surrounded by vaulted rooms. In the corners are self-contained suites with their own much smaller courtyard.
Most visitors to Fatehpur Sikri are transported to and from the palace via a shuttle bus that runs from the public carpark about one km from the site. I decided to walk back down to the carpark which allowed me to see a couple of additional monuments.
This is a triple-arched gateway faced with sandstone. Locally it is known as Naubat Khana, and is referred to in contemporary records as Chahar Suq (‘ marketplace around a square’). It was originally connected with a two-storeyed colonnade on both sides, and was the imperial market of the capital.
This is another building where the name is misleading, as there is no connection with the illustrious musician.
Little is known of the purpose of this small buildings, it may have been a recreational pavilion from where the emperor could gaze out to the north overlooking the lake. An alternative suggestion is that this was inhabited by a nobleman.
Continuing east you shortly reach the perimeter wall of the city and Agra Darwaza, the main gate over the route that continues east to Agra.
There is far more to see at Fatehpur Sikri than just the palace complex and Jami Masjid, and this blog post probably covers less than 20% of those other structures. It’s a wonderful site to explore on foot, and to see everything here I think would take at least three days at a reasonable pace. If your time is restricted I do recommend you see the Hiran Minar, an icon of the city that is largely overlooked.
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