Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri – Exploring Beyond the Palace

Caravanserai and Hiran Minar – Fatehpur Sikri

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.

Caravanserai and Hathi Pol – Fatehpur Sikri

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.

Faizi and Fazl’s Houses – Fatehpur Sikri

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.

Hathi Pol

Continuing ahead and starting to descend down the hill you will reach Hathi Pol on your left.

South-facing elevation of Hathi Pol – Fatehpur Sikri

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.

North-facing elevation of Hathi Pol – Fatehpur Sikri

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.

Elephants flanking gate on north-facing elevation of Hathi Pol – Fatehpur Sikri

Hiran Minar

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.

Hiran Minar – Fatehpur Sikri

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.

Hiran Minar – Fatehpur Sikri

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’.

Close-up of stone elephant tusks studded on Hiran Minar – Fatehpur Sikri

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.

Hiran Minar – Fatehpur Sikri

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.

Hiran Minar – Fatehpur Sikri

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.


Caravanserai – Fatehpur Sikri

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.

Hiran Minar and Caravanserai – Fatehpur Sikri

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.

Chahar Suq

Chahar Suq (Naubat Khana) – Fatehpur Sikri

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.

Tansen’s Baradari

Tansen’s Baradari – Fatehpur Sikri

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.

Interior of Tansen’s Baradari – Fatehpur Sikri

Agra Darwaza

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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12 replies »

  1. Thanks for informing me that it would take 3 days for Fatehpur Sikri, my last trip I did it in 2hours! 😀 So you can imagine what all I might have seen. Anyway, next trip I will dedicate more days for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent photos and info. One more addition to the intriguing places marked for visit, of course a big Thanks to you Kevin!

    Btw, I found even Burhanpur (Maharashta-MP border) to be an less travelled, hidden gem.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic piece. One of the nicest I have read on Fatehpur Sikri, which is almost an obsession for me. I’ve been there thrice and unfortunately I spent less than day each time. Take your point 100 per cent. A proper visit requires us to have patience like Babar. Thanks .

    Liked by 1 person

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