Friday, August 27

The Red Fort of Agra

The Red Fort of Agram, or Lal Qila, was once home to Mughal emperors of India. It sits on the west bank of the Yamuna River less than two kilometers from the Taj Mahal. Its construction began in 1156 and continued in several phases until 1605. By the time of its completion the fort had been transformed into something closer to a walled city than a simple fortress. At least four Mughal emperors governed their empire from here including Akbar, the founder of Fatehpur Sikri, and Shahjahan, the man who commissioned the Taj Mahal.

Perhaps the Fort’s most noteworthy moment in history involved the imprisonment of Shahjahan. The emperor was held hostage until his death by his son Aurangzeb following the completion of the Taj Mahal. At the time Shahjahan had commissioned a black marble version of the Taj Mahal on the river bank opposite the white marble original. This was to be his tomb upon death. However, his son was horrified by the expense of the first Taj Mahal. He feared his father would drain the empire’s coffers financing another of his romantic follies and so he had him imprisoned.

Shahjahan spent the remainder of his life living in a small white marble palace called Musamman Burj located on the edge of Agra Fort. The palace offered an unobstructed view of Taj Mahal either adding to the imprisoned emperor’s anguish, or perhaps offering some degree of daily solace. Today, from Taj Mahal’s forecourt, you can still clearly distinguish his prison. Its white marble fa├žade stands in stark contrast to the red stone walls of the surrounding Fort. From the same vantage point you can also see the incomplete red brick foundations of the black marble Taj Mahal on the opposing bank of the Yamuna River.

The walls of the fort have two gates, the Delhi Gate and the Amar Singh Gate. Most visitors enter through the Amar Singh Gate. It’s a dramatic entrance, via a small drawbridge that straddles an impressively deep and imposing moat. Inside, are numerous buildings and courtyards of note. I particularly love the imposing Diwan-i-Am, or Hall of Public Audience. This dramatically pillared marble pavilion sits on the edge of equally elegant garden courtyard. On the day we visited its charm was briefly enhanced by the presence of a single horse and carriage. It’s easy to why the Victorian author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was moved to incorporate the Fort in his Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Sign of the Four.

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