New Delhi, the capital of India, has an illustrious history. Having been fought over by ruler after ruler for claim over Indian soils, it has seen numerous rulers, cultures, and architectures. As such, it is dotted with iconic historic structures that have stood the ravages of time. The Red Fort Complex, including the Salimgarh fort that predates it to its Northeast, is a colossal complex with great historical value. The two forts are built by different dynasties in different periods. An arched bridge, built at the time of Bahadur Shah Zafar, connects the two forts. 

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Salimgarh Fort History

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Sher Shah Suri defeated Mughal Emperor Humayun in 1540 and established the Sur dynasty’s control over Delhi.  The Salimgarh fort was built in 1546 by Salim Shah Suri, son of Sher Shah Suri, to protect his territories from potential attackers. Construction began on a site with the Aravali hills on one side and the Yamuna River on the other. However, Salim Shah Suri passed away in 1555. Only the other fort walls and a mosque were constructed during his reign.

In 1555, Emperor Humayun returned from Persia and took over the empire. He seized the Salimgarh fort and named it ‘Nurgarh’. It is believed that he gave the fort to a Mughal nobleman as a jagir (The Salimgarh Fort: A Juxtaposition of Captivity and Independence, no date). Subsequently, several Mughal emperors, including Shah Jahan, briefly lived in this fort. It regained prominence during the reign of Shah Jahan when he built the Red Fort, in his new city Shahjahanabad, right next to the Salimgarh Fort.

 During Emperor Aurangzeb’s reign, the Fort was converted into a prison. His older brother Dara Shukoh, youngest brother Murad Baksh and daughter Zebunissa were incarcerated here among many other notable prisoners.

During the revolt of 1857, Bahadur Shah Zafar is said to have operated from the Salimgarh Fort. He is said to have observed the rebels fighting from the ramparts of the fort. Eventually, the British ambushed and captured the fort, turning it into an army camp and prison. It was later used as a memorial for Indian freedom fighters.

Salimgarh Fort Description

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The gate to the fort is called the Bahadur Shah gate after Bhadur Shah Zafar who constructed the bridge that connects it to the red fort. Brick masonry and red sandstone were used to construct this gate. The bridge was demolished during British Rule in favor of a railway line.

The fort itself is built in a triangular shape. The primary building material is rubble masonry. Circular bastions lined the exterior walls at regular intervals since the fort was primarily built to protect against war.  

Red Fort Introduction

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In 1638, the fifth Mughal Emperor in India, Shah Jahan, decided to move his capital city from Agra back to Delhi. In this process, he built a new city, Shahjahan Abad (Bhat, 2018). The Red Fort or ‘Lal Qila’ was built by emperor Shah Jahan as part of this new city. The 75 feet (23 meters) high walls enclose a complex of palaces and entertainment halls, projecting balconies, baths, indoor canals, and geometrical gardens, as well as an ornate mosque (Zeidan, 2021). This fort was the seat of the Mughal empire for around 200 years. It then fell into British hands. The last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar was coronated here

The fort is named after the red sandstone which is the primary material used to construct its walls. The red fort represents the zenith of Mughal creativity in its intricate, diverse architecture. The architectural styles include Islamic, Persian, Timurid, and Hindu. The garden designs and the planning of this complex strongly influenced later buildings and gardens in Rajasthan, Delhi, Agra, and so on (Red Fort Complex – UNESCO World Heritage Centre, no date).

Red Fort Description

The fort has numerous structures within it. The private apartments open out into a row of pavilions which in turn are connected by a continuous water channel known as the Nahr-i-behisht (stream of paradise). Among the famous structures of this complex are the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), the Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Public Audience), the king’s palace, and the mosque.

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The entrance to the Diwan-i-‘Am has the Naubat-Khana (Drum house), from where musicians played during ceremonies. The Diwan-i-‘Am is a large hall with a nine arch façade. This hall also has an ornamented alcove where the royal throne would be placed. The Diwan-i-Khas is said to have hosted Shah Jahan’s famous peacock throne before it was taken by the Persian Nadir Shah. Other places of note in the Red Fort are the Rang Mahal (Painted palace), the Mumtaz Mahal (which has now been converted to a museum), the Khas Mahal (A private house with a chamber for telling beads or Tasbih Khana, a sleeping chamber or Khwabgah, a robing chamber or Tosh Khana) and the Hammam (the ornately decorated royal bathing area, located to the north of the Diwan-i-Khas). Mughal architecture is famous for its beautiful gardens, which is the Hayat-Baksh-Bagh (life-giving garden) with its pavilions in the case of the Red Fort (Bhat, 2018).

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References:

Bhat, A. (2018) A History Of The Red Fort, Delhi’s Most Iconic Monument, Culture Trip.com. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/asia/india/articles/red-fort-a-walk-through-history/ (Accessed: 23 November 2022).

Red Fort Complex – UNESCO World Heritage Centre (no date). Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/231/ (Accessed: 27 November 2022).

The Salimgarh Fort: A Juxtaposition of Captivity and Independence (no date) India Culture. Available at: https://www.indianculture.gov.in/node/2790481.

Author

Raveena is passionate about design, architectural theory and the climate crisis alike. She aspires to understand and translate designed space- and its experiential qualities- into buildings that make a difference and respect the earth.

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