Agra Fort

Agra Fort

Akbar, the great Mogul emperor who ruled from 1556 to 1605, chose Agra as his capital in 1565 and undertook to rebuild the existing 500-year old fort, which was in ruined condition. It took 8 years to complete, using the labor of 4000 builders per day. Rebuilt in red sandstone, it served essentially a military function under the reign of Akbar, but was partially transformed into a palace under the rule of his grandson Shah Jahan, who enlarged the fort.

Built in a semi-circular plan along the Yamuna River, the massive walls of the fort are 60 ft. high and have a perimeter of 2.5 km. (1.5 mi.). Some 500 buildings lie within the fortress’ walls, many of which had been converted by Shah Jahan from its original red sandstone into white marble. The fort was protected by a 20-ft. moat that teemed with crocodiles and by a second dry moat, where lions and tigers lived.

Although not all of the buildings are accessible to visitors, we saw a fair number of the palatial and religious buildings. Among the more notable were the Public Audiences Pavilion, the Private Audiences Pavilion, the Nagina Mosque, and the Octagonal Tower. The first had a Throne Room incrusted with marble, while the second housed the celebrated Peacock Throne, the jewel-encrusted throne that was later taken to Delhi before it was carried off to Iran by the Persians in the 18th century. We had seen the bejeweled throne on display at the National Jewels Museum in Tehran. The mosque, another work from Shah Jahan, was made entirely of white marble. The pretty tower is where Shah Jahan spent the last 8 years of his life, imprisoned there by his son Aurangzeb, the new emperor. He had a nice view across the river of his wife’s tomb, the famed Taj Mahal. The mosque is one of 3 white marble mosques built by Shah Jahan.

One thing that differentiated the Agra Fort from other forts I’ve seen, apart from the red sandstone and white marble, was its Chain of Justice, built by Emperor Jahangir around 1605. Made of pure gold and containing 60 bells, its 80-ft. length was shaken by the people to alert the Emperor to a problem or grievance. In meeting out justice, Jahangir apparently made no distinction between color, creed, caste, the rich or the poor.

In 1658, Shah Jahan’s son Aurangzeb besieged the fort and closed off the water supply from the river. His father surrendered, and the Fort and Agra lost its grandeur after Shah Jahan’s death in 1666. Aurangzeb’s death in 1707 threw the affairs of the Mogul Empire into chaos, and Agra, the capital, decline further still. The 18th century saw one siege after another and the Fort was heavily plundered. The British captured the Fort in 1803 and converted it to an arsenal, mostly destroying large parts of the Fort to convert it into barricades.

Under the Moguls, the Agra Fort had become the most important fort in India. By the time of Shah Jahan in the 17th century, the fort was 75% military, 25% royal residence.

Only the area in the southeast part of the Fort – where the Mogul Palaces have remained – are protected and conserved by the Archaeological Survey of India. The Agra Fort was inscribed upon the UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1983.