Rajasthan, located in northwest India and the country’s largest state by area, is a real treasure trove of historic architectural monuments. While its architectural heritage has been well-known throughout history, the state has experienced a steady increase in tourism over the past decades in part owing to these architectural sites and their rich cultures.
In fact, the state’s architectural and cultural significance has been recognized by UNESCO in the past decade when eight of its historical monuments attained the status of World Heritage Sites. Among these, six are historical forts and together they form what UNESCO calls the Hill Forts of Rajasthan.
1. Jaipur City
The capital city of Rajasthan, Jaipur, is so well-known for its predominantly pink buildings that it is also called the Pink City. Founded in 1727 by Prince Jai Singh II, the walled city stands out from other cities in the region as it occupies a flat area of land rather than the sloped terrains of surrounding hills.
Significantly, Jaipur is also one of the earliest planned cities of India, and its grid plan combined with the chowkri urban block reflects a distinctly Western influence being incorporated into a traditional Hindu urban planning scheme.
The city was intended to be a commercial capital from the very beginning, and the impressive architecture of the marketplaces and large, public squares (chaupars) reflect the ambitions of this mercantile interest up until this day.
2. Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
Completed in 1734, the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is one of five astronomical observatories built by Jai Singh II in the early 18th century across northern India, with the other four being in Delhi, Ujjain, Varanasi, and Mathura. Together, the five observatories span a great distance, so as to provide more accurate readings as figures could be compared with one another.
The Jaipur observatory consists of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments, all of which are made of stone and masonry and allows observation with the naked eye. These were made on a grand scale to achieve accuracy and to surpass the more traditional brass instruments that had been in use at the time. Notable among these is the Samrat Yantra, the world’s largest stone sundial.
3. Chittorgarh (Chittor Fort)
Sited on top of a 180m hill, Chittorgarh is one of the largest forts in India as well as in Asia. It was built in the 7th century AD by the Mauryans and had since passed through the hands of many different rulers and witnessed three sieges. A wall of 13 km long surrounds the fort and features seven gates, all of them built as monumental stone structures for military defense against both elephants and cannon shots.
Inside the fort, a circular road connects a total of 65 buildings or structures, including temples, palaces, memorials, and reservoirs. The many architectural ruins have proved to be inspiring as they have appeared in the works of numerous writers, poets, as well as artists.
4. Kumbhalgarh (Kumbhal Fort)
Sitting at the summit of a 1,100m hill is the Kumbhalgarh, which was first constructed in the fifteenth century by Rana Kumbha and then continuously expanded up until the nineteenth century. Its perimeter wall of 32 km makes it the second-longest continuous wall in the world, right after the Great Wall of China. It also has seven gates, the most prominent being the Ram Gate, which is fifteen feet at its thickest.
Within the colossal walls, there are a total of over 360 Jain and Hindu temples, in addition to numerous palaces and gardens. Out of these, the Badal Mahal (Palace of Cloud) remains a key architectural feature and attraction as it is both situated on the highest peak in the fort and is painted with colorful murals and walls.
5. Ranthambore Fort, Sawai Madhopur
The Ranthambore Fort, or Sawai Madhopur Fort as UNESCO calls it, is located within the Ranthambore National Park. It is believed that the Chauhans built the fort in the tenth century and that it was attacked a number of times between then and the sixteenth century. While the fort’s east side is mostly wild, natural areas which served as hunting grounds, its west side was home to many buildings such as mosques, temples, step-wells, and barracks.
Three of the temples are dedicated to the Hindu gods Ganesh, Shiva, and Ramlalaji. Even today, the Ganesha Temple continues to be an important building and a key attraction for both the locals and tourists as a religious site.
6. Gagron Fort, Jhalawar
Resting against a hill on one side and surrounded by water on the other three, the Gagron Fort, also called Jhalawar Fort by UNESCO, is unique both as the only hill and water fort in Rajasthan and as the only fort built without a foundation.
While it remains disputed as to when the fort was first built, its location on a rocky site at the confluence of the two rivers, Ahu and Kali Sindh, meant that the structure was definitely well-protected by the strong, gushing forces of the rivers from invaders. The fort passed through the hands of several different rulers and witnessed at least fourteen battles over its lifetime of at least a thousand years.
7. Amber Fort, Jaipur
Construction of the Amber Fort (or Amer Fort) was first started by Raja Man Singh I in the sixteenth century and renovations continued into the 18th century. It sits overlooking the Maota Lake and is known for its Mughal-influenced architecture, featuring a hypostyle hall and many courtyards. The fort contained the palace and private residence of the Rajput Maharajas and their families until the capital was transferred to Jaipur in 1728.
Today, the monumental architecture continues to be celebrated through a daily light and sound show, which turns the entire fort into a lively spectacle every evening.
8. Jaisalmer Fort
Built in 1156 by Rawal Jaisal, the Jaisalmer Fort is not only the second oldest fort in Rajasthan, but also one of the very few “living forts” in the 21st century as almost a quarter of the city’s population still live within the fort.
The complex features four fortified gates, the Raj Mahal Palace, seven Jain temples, and several havelis among other structures. The havelis are large mansions built by wealthy merchants for themselves and their families, and which often have central courtyards.
During the day, the yellow sandstone that is used for the havelis and throughout the fort is reflected by the sun to create a stunning yellow hue, thus its nickname, the Golden Fort.