Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri
En route to Ranthambore we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri, the "City of Victory", on a low hill of the Vindhya mountain range. Before the reign of Akbar (1556-1605), the Mughal King who built Fatehpur Sikri, the site of the future city had already earned an auspicious reputation. Babar, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty and Akbar's grandfather, had won a battle here over Rana Sanga of Mewar. In gratitude he named the area Shukri, which means "thanks". We left our shoes in a cubbyhole next to the main steps and entered through The King’s Gate.





Once through the gate we found ourselves in a massive courtyard. To the left the tallest public gate we have yet seen. Ahead and centre of the area, a mosque.





The mosque (now on the left). The tomb Akbar built for Shaikh Salim Chishti (white building) and quarters that are now filled with tombs of ladies – men are outside to the right.


In Akbar's time the site was occupied by a small village of stonecutters and was the home of Shaikh Salim Chishti, a Muslim astrologer and Sufi Saint. In 1568 Akbar visited the Shaikh to ask for the birth of an heir. The Shaikh replied that an heir would be born soon. Sure enough, Akbar's Hindi wife (Jodha Bai) gave birth to a boy on the 30th of August 1569. In gratitude, Akbar named the boy Salim after the astrologer, and, two years later decided to move the capital to Sikri. The decision to build a new capital at Sikri was determined by more than sentiment. It was a strategic location in Rajasthan that put Akbar and his armies closer to the Gujarat region, the next object of Akbar's expansionist dreams. Gujarat was desirable because its coastal cities were ideally suited to take advantage of the lucrative trade to Arab lands.



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We began our bimble on the right, passing graves of various men and then the quarters, presumably those of the soldiers and guards garrisoned here.


Construction of the new capital began in earnest in 1571 and continued for about fifteen years. During much of this time Akbar made the area his home, but strangely, in 1586, Akbar permanently abandoned his new capital. The reasons are not entirely clear, but the most plausible explanation is that Akbar needed to move his base of operations to wage the war against Kabul, which he occupied in 1585, and Kandahar, which fell in 1595.

After Akbar's departure the city was used only sparingly in the coming centuries. In the early 17th century it became the home of several queen mothers. In 1619 Emperor Jahangir camped here for three months while bubonic plague raged in nearby Agra. Ninety years later, the city was refurbished to host the coronation of Muhammad Shah (1709-48). After that, the city was largely abandoned until Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India for the British from 1898 to 1905, sponsored an archaeological survey and restoration efforts. Nowadays the city has become a tourist attraction and for us a break in the journey to Ranthambore.



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Through the ladies to an important, tall grave. These ladies were covered with silk cloths.



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More ladies until something really interesting at the far end.



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Well, this chap was non too interested and carried on scruffing about. At the far end of the ladies we saw these steps leading down to a now-locked door. Beyond is a tunnel that back in the day, went all the way to Agra...... We stepped out beyond the ladies and marvelled at how all the many chattri have remained (or have been restored) considering their ‘spindly’ supports.



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We donned plastic fez and entered the Tomb of Salim Chishti. Sheikh Salim Chishti (1478–1572) was a known sufi saint in the Sikri village who had predicted the birth of Akbar’s son Jahangir, which eventually led to Akbar moving his capital here. The Sufi saint lies encased in a white marble with a wooden canopy, twinkly with mother-of-pearl.



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The niches and walls around the tomb were prettily decorated and much was original.



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We bimbled around the corridors surrounding the tomb, enjoyed the intricately carved jaalis, saw remnants of blue glazing around the Scripture plaque and took a picture as we returned our plastic headwear of the fort during a festival.





Outside we looked back on the tomb building, currently having some restorative work done. The tomb is in a single-storey building constructed around the square chamber in the centre that holds the grave. Intricate jaalis, the white marble brackets, the drooping eaves around the parapet are just some of the features of the tomb of Salim Chishti. When it was built it was typical of Islamic tombs topped with a dome and 36 little domed chattris, hope these are being replaced by the enthusiastic workers we saw.



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We turned right from the tomb and headed for the mosque, children were laying out matting to help minimise skidding.



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Jama Masjid: This congregational mosque, historians believe, is the first building to be constructed on the complex, and holds immense religious and spiritual significance. The sprawling courtyard of the Fatehpur Sikri Jama Masjid, the row of chattri designs on the sanctuary, the geometric patterns typical of Islamic architecture, the fine white marble inlay decorations characterise what is the country’s most stunning mosque.

Jama Masjid is a Jama Mosque meaning the congregational mosque and was perhaps one of the first buildings to be constructed in the complex, as its epigraph gives AH 979 (A.D. 1571-72) as the date of its completion, with a massive entrance to the courtyard, the Buland-Darwaza added some five years later. It was built in the manner of Indian mosques, with iwans around a central courtyard. A distinguishing feature is the row of chhatri over the sanctuary. There are three mihrabs in each of the seven bays, while the large central mihrab is covered by a dome, it is decorated with white marble inlay, in geometric patterns.




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 We turned right again and headed for The Public Gate and through, passing a splendid corridor. Located on the south wall, Buland Darwaza is a 55-metre-high structure and a mark of Emperor Akbar’s victory in Gujurat. This addition was made to Fatehpur Sikri after about five years of the construction of the mosque. The columned central porch is made of three entrances of which the central one is the largest and popularly dubbed the Horseshoe Gate, after the numerous horseshoes nailed on it as a symbol of good luck. Buland Darwaza is one of the most photographed structures in the Fatehpur Sikri complex.





Looking out over the town we know it is surrounded by an the eight-kilometre-long fort wall, entered through various gates called - Delhi, Lal, Agra, Chandanpal, Gwalior, Birbal’s, Chor, Ajmeri and Tehra Gate.



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Turning, we could take in the sturdy fort wall and a gang of goats.



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The gate was added around five years after the completion of the mosque c. 1576-1577 as a victory arch, to commemorate Akbar’s successful Gujarat campaign. It carries two inscriptions in the archway, one of which reads: "Isa, Son of Mariam said: The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses on it. He who hopes for an hour may hope for eternity. The world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen". 
The central portico comprises three arched entrances, with the largest one, in the centre, is known locally as the Horseshoe Gate, after the custom of nailing horseshoes to its large wooden doors for luck. Up inside the great dome of the gate are many bee nests – sadly, these are sprayed at frequent intervals with poisonous gas, reason, so the tourists don’t get stung. Such a shame that once up a ladder they cannot sedate the bees and carry them into the countryside..........





Outside the giant steps of the Buland Darwaza to the left is a deep well. We bimbled back the way we had come, collected our shoes and headed toward the Palaces (for the different main wives) Complex.