Built by Emperor Akbar between 1571 and 1585 in honor of Salim Chishti, a famous Sufi saint of the Chishti order, Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal empire for 14 years. One of the best examples of a Mughal walled city, with defined areas and imposing gateways, its architecture is a blend of Hindu and Islamic styles, and reflects Akbar’s secular vision as well as his type of governance. The city was abandoned, some say for lack of water, in 1585, and many of its treasures were plundered. It owes its present state of preservation to the efforts of Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India and a great conservationist.
THE JAMI MASJID AND SALIM CHISHTI
Towering over Fatehpur Sikri is the grand open mosque Jami Masjid. Its vast congregational area has monumental gateways to the east and south. The 177-ft (54-m) Buland Darwaza, a triumphal arch, was erected by Akbar to mark his 1573 conquest of Gujarat. The spiritual focus of the complex is the tomb of Sufi mystic Salim Chishti. Ever since Akbar’s childlessness was ended after the saint’s prediction in 1568, his tomb has attracted thousands, particularly childless women in search of a miracle. Visitors make a wish, tie a thread on the screen around the tomb, and return home confident that their wish will come true.
AKBAR THE GREAT
The greatest emperor of the Muslim Mughal dynasty, Akbar (r. 1556-1605) was a brilliant administrator and an enlightened ruler. Just 14 years old when he ascended the throne, his first task was to consolidate and expand his fledgling empire. His most significant move was the political and matrimonial alliances he formed with the Hindu Rajputs. However, it was his policy of religious tolerance that truly set him apart. Akbar was fascinated by the study of comparative religion and built a special “House of Worship” in Fatehpur Sikri, where he often met leaders of other faiths.
One of colonial India’s most flamboyant viceroys, Lord Curzon (1859-1925) believed British rule was necessary to civilize “backward” India. He introduced sweeping changes in the education system, but he is remembered most for his role as a conservator of Indian monuments. Lord Curzon was responsible for the restoration of a vast number of Hindu, Islamic, and Mughal buildings, among them the gateway to Emperor Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra, Agra Fort, the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri, the Jain temples at Mount Abu, and the Taj Mahal. In 1905, due to a difference of opinion with the British military commander-in-chief, Lord Kitchener, Curzon returned to England. By the time he left, he had achieved sufficient legislation to protect India’s historic buildings, and set up an organization to conserve them.
This large courtyard with an elaborate pavilion was originally draped with rich tapestries and was used for public hearings and celebrations.
Turkish Sultana’s House
The fine dado panels and delicately sculpted walls of this ornate sandstone pavilion make the stone seem like wood. It is topped with an unusual stone roof of imitation clay tiles.
This pool is associated with Akbar’s renowned court musician, Tansen, who, according to legend, could light oil lamp with his magical singing.
Pillar in the Diwan-i-Khas
The central axis of Akbar’s court, supported by carved brackets, was inspired by Gujarati buildings.
This sandstone, five-story open pavilion, overlooking the Pachisi Court, is where Akbar’s queens and their attendants savored the cool evening breezes. Its decorative screens were probably stolen after the city was abandoned.
Sometimes identified as the treasury, this building has mythical guardian beasts carved on its stone struts. Its name means “blind man’s buff.”
This hall, used for private audiences and debates, is a unique fusion of different architectural styles and religious motifs.
Akbar’s private sleeping quarters, with an ingenious ventilation shaft near his bed, lie within this lavishly decorated “Chamber of Dreams.”
This is named after a ludolike game played here by the ladies of the court.
A musical genius, the legendary composer musician Tansen was Akbar’s Master of Music and one of the “nine jewels” in his court. He developed an exciting new range of melodic modes, or ragas.
1571: Construction of Emperor Akbar’s new capital at Fatehpur Sikri begins.
1576: Tlie 15-story triumphal arch Buland Darwaza is built by Akbar.
1585: Fatehpur Sikri is abandoned by Emperor Akbar.
1986: Fatehpur Sikri becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.