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The Mughal Empire

Much of the capital built by the Mughal Empire (1526 - 1712), the last ruling dynasty of India, is referred to as Old Delhi.

The Mughals were a Muslim dynasty founded by Babar (reigned 1526 - 1530), a descendant of the Turkic conqueror Timur and of Changatai, second son of the Mongol Genghis Khan. The dynasty is notable for about two centuries for the ability of its rulers, who through seven generations maintained a record of unusual talent and for its administrative organization.


Babar (Babur), the first of the Mughal rulers, established Delhi as the seat of his empire in 1526. Humayun, his son built a new city, Din Panah. However, in 1540 Sher Shah Suri drove Humayun out of the country, razed Din Panah to the ground and built the sixth city of Delhi - Sher Shahi. The Purana Quila (Old Fort) was the establishment he created.

The Mughals soon re-established themselves, however, Delhi was no longer the capital. Emperor Akbar's grandson, Shah Jahan (1628-58) shifted the capital to Delhi again and built the Red Fort as the royal residence within the new capital of Shahjahanabad. (Shah Jahan also built the Taj Mahal in Agra).

[Purana Qila (Old Fort)]
[The Old Fort (Purana Qila)]
[The Red Fort]
[The Red Fort]


The Lal Quila or Red Fort was built in 1648 by Shah Jahan (great great grandson of Babur). It was a part of his effort to shift the capital from Agra to Delhi. The Taj Mahal in Agra was also built by him.

[Lahore Darwaza]The Red Fort has a perimeter of 2.41 kilometers. With an oblong octagonal plan the fort has two principle gates - Lahore Darwaza (pictured on the left) and Dehli darwaza along its western and southern sides respectively. Outside the ramparts runs a moat, originally connected with the river Yamuna. The palaces lie along the eastern (river) side of the fort.

The two architects associated with the construction of the Red Fort are Ustad Hamid and Ustad Ahmad. The construction of the Red Fort took 9 years between 1639 and 1648. The major buildings inside the Red Fort compound include - The Naqqar Khana, Diwan-i-am, Rang-Mahal, Khas-Mahal, Mumtaj-Mahal (named after Shah Jahan's wife), Diwan-i-Khas and Hammams. The Red Fort also houses a mosque, the "Moti Masjid" (Pearl mosque) built by Aurangzeb (son of Shah Jahan) in 1659-60. Built for his private use, it was concealed within a walled enclosure. This gem like mosque follows conventional mughal pattern with attractive decorative elements.

A closer look at the walls of the buildings of the Red Fort reveals the delicate, detailed work, consistent with Mughal architecture. The marble walls were cut with care and fitted with precious and semi-precious stones to forms patterns such as the flower on the right. However, like the Taj Mahal in Agra the Red Fort was stripped of many of its priceless stones under British rule, mostly under Lord Curzon. Besides being artistic wonders, Mughal monuments were also a fine example of highly developed engineering in India.

The Diwan-i-am (hall of public audience), was used by Mughal emperors for holding state functions. Originally the hall was ornamented with gilded stucco-work and hung with heavy curtains. Under the marble canopy projecting from the back wall stood the throne of the emperor, and in the marble dias below the Prime Minister received complaints and petitions. The panels bearing the pietradura decoration behind the marble canopy seem to have been executed by some European artist.

The Red Fort also housed the Diwan-i-Khas (hall of private audience). The emperor gave private audience to courtiers and state guests here. The ceiling was originally inlaid with silver and gold. The celebrated Peacock throne, which was removed during the invasion of Nadir Shah in 1739 once stood on the marble pedestral in this hall.


The Rang Mahal (palace of color) which originally served as a part of imperial seraglio was known as the Imtiyazz-Mahal (palace of distinction). During the time of Shah Jahan, its whole interior was richly painted and decorated. Some apartments of this building are called Shish-Mahal due to the fact that their ceilings are decked with tiny mirrors.

Through the center of the Rang Mahal flowed the Nahr-i-Bihist (stream of paradise) which was a fully functional fountain which fed the small water channels which flowed into the rooms in the Red Fort. These channels provided natural cooling during hot Delhi summers.

The Red Fort also conceals a secret tunnel built by the Mughals. This tunnel connects the Mughal establishment at Fatehpur Sikri, the Agra Fort, The Red Fort and the Mughal establishment at Lahore, which is now in Pakistan.

[The Red Fort]

Today, in the absence of emperors the Red Fort plays host to the Prime Minister of India. On the 15th of August (Independence Day) each year, the Prime Minister delivers his address to the nation.