Qutab Minar Complex

Qutab Minar Complex

The UNESCO proclaimed the Qutab Minar Complex a World Heritage site in 1993 because it is a unique example of 12th-century Indo-Muslim art. The construction of this complex, which is composed of several parts, goes back to the dawn of the Muslim era in India and superbly illustrates the beginnings of Afghan architecture.

The first part is the Qutab Minar itself, a Victory Tower that was built in 1193, immediately after the defeat of the last Hindu king of Delhi. It is almost 73 m. (219 ft.) high and gets progressively thinner as it mounts. Balconies adorn each of the five levels. The lower three levels are made of red sandstone; the upper two are made of marble and sandstone. Only one story was finished when Qutab-ud-din died, but his successors finished the work. The last levels were reconstructed in 1368 and a cupola added. The latter caved in during an earthquake in 1803. Although originally constructed as a Victory Tower, it was afterwards used as a minaret. It was possible to climb to the summit of the tower until the 1970’s, after which time access was denied because of numerous accidents and suicides. Although the tower leans slightly today, it has amazingly withstood the test of time and has not suffered any other damage. The first level is, however, undergoing restoration work, and several stones have been changed.

At the foot of the Qutab Minar is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid (Power of Islam Mosque), the first mosque built in India. Its construction was started the same year as the Victory Tower, and it was enlarged and embellished many times over the centuries. The first mosque was built on the foundations of a Hindu temple. An inscription by the eastern door tells us that it was built from “27 idolatrous temples”. Many elements recall the Hindu and Jain origin of the building materials. Two decades after it was built, Qutab-ud-din’s son encircled the small mosque with an arcaded courtyard. Another door and an eastern courtyard were added later on.

The gate of Alai-Darwaza is described as one of the finest jewels of Indo-Muslim art. The square building, topped by a dome and decorated with geometrical motifs on sculpted wood in the interior, was constructed in 1311 of red sandstone and marble. Its numerous sculptures and its detail are beautiful.

An Iron Pillar 7 m. (21 ft.) high is situated in the center of the courtyard, and was in fact there long before the mosque was built. A six-line inscription in the Sanskrit language informs us that it was first raised at the exterior of a Vishnu (Hindu) temple, without doubt in memory of the King Chandragupta Vikramaditya, who ruled from 375 to 413. The inscription does not tell us how the pillar was made, but its iron is of an exceptional purity, and scientists have never discovered how this metal – which has remained inoxydized for almost 2000 years – has been obtained with the technologies of the epoch.

Around 1300, when Ala-ud-din enlarged the mosque, he had the idea to built a second Victory Tower – a replica of the first, but two times higher. It had reached only 27 m. when he died, and after his death, it was decided that further work would not be pursued.

Situated 1.5 km. south of Delhi, the area has several pretty summer palaces and tombs of the last kings of Delhi, who followed the Moguls.