Agra Fort: A historical marvel in the shadow of Taj Mahal

Agra Fort

Taj Mahal is arguably the most beautiful monument in the world and therefore with time has rightly become synonymous with Agra. However, when you visit Agra, there is the Agra fort too, which is an exemplary monument especially for architectural enthusiasts and history lovers. Although the construction of the fort is credited to the Mughals, the history of the fort can be traced back to the 11th century. Currently, Agra fort is included in the elite list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Tourists enter into the fort through the Amar Singh gate and can only access 25% of the fort area as the remaining sections are used by the Indian Army.

Agra Fort

I and Neha went to the Agra Fort after visiting the Taj Mahal. I reached there through an auto rickshaw which was easily available from the western gate of Taj Mahal.

Quick facts before we dive into the details:

Location: About 2 km upstream on the western bank of the Yamuna from the Taj Mahal.

Photography: Allowed

Best Time to visit: The winter months

Entry Fee: Rs. 40 for Indian citizens, Rs. 80 for SAARC and BIMSTEC nationals, Rs.550 for other nationals

Timings: Sunrise to Sunset

Babur, the founder of the mighty Mughal dynasty stayed in this fort after defeating Ibrahim Lodi in the first battle of Panipat. Subsequently all Mughal emperors have resided in this fort and have added to its development. Most of the contributions are done by emperor Shah Jahan, who constructed it more as a palace than a fort. It is interesting to see the contrast in the architecture of the areas constructed by Shah Jahan, consisting of white marbles and those built by his predecessors, Akbar and Jahangir, consisting of red sandstone.

Ramparts of the fort
Moat surrounding the fort

The fort has excellent strategic features and is built with a lot of technical intelligence and craftsmanship. The fort is surrounded by two moats- the dry moat, earlier resided by wild animals and the wet moat, filled with water and inhibited by crocodiles. The double roof, hollow walls are examples of the acoustic intelligence used in the construction of the fort. There are high pressure rosewater fountains and a network of drains carrying these scented water through the rooms. The bedchambers are constructed using limestone which is moistened with water flowing from overhead tanks thereby providing excellent cooling. However, in this section, the gold-plated walls were torched by the invaders after the decline of the Mughal dynasty leaving ugly black patches all over the beautiful marble carvings. If the damage by the invaders wasn’t enough, our Indian visitors have further ruined it by epitomizing their love by carving heart signs and their names on the walls. Our modern day Shah Jahans and Mumtajs 😛 😛

The Jahangiri Mahal constructed by emperor Jahangir is a prominent monument within the fort. It is constructed using red sandstone and is marked by its two minarets. Later the use of minarets went on to become an important aspect of the Mughal architecture. Just in front of Jahangiri Mahal is a bathtub which was used by Jahangir and is carved out of a single stone.

Monolithic bathtub (even the steps are carved out of the same stone)
Jahangiri Mahal

The Diwan i Aam, Diwan i Khas, Shish Mahal and Moti Masjid are four important structures within the fort. Moti Masjid was the private mosque of Shah Jahan and was built using the remains of the white marbles used in the construction of Taj Mahal. This mosque along with the Shish Mahal has been closed for the public in the last few years. There are two other mosques, the Nagina mosque and the Mina mosque within the fort premises. Diwan i Khas is the hall of private audience and there is an indoor as well as outdoor Diwan i Khas. The outdoor Diwan i Khas offers the most aesthetic views. There is a large black marble seat (Taqth i Jahangir) with Quran inscriptions overlooking the expansive views of river Yamuna and Taj Mahal in the backdrop. Now you can see a crack on that marble throne and a dent on the walls caused by a cannonball that was fired into the fort. Then there is the Anguri Bagh, a grape garden meant for the private recreation of the royal ladies and the king’s concubines. Our guide informed us that here the queens used to personally prepare wine from the grapes for the emperor.

The courtyard with lattice balconies for the royal ladies
Taqt i Jahangir with a glimpse of Taj Mahal in the background

Then there are two Doli Mahals, constructed by Shah Jahan for his two daughters- Jahanara and Roshanara.

Doli Mahal

Then we came across the most tragic place in the entire fort – the Musamman Burj. It is an octagonal pavilion decorated with delicate craftsmanship. The walls are embellished with precious stones embedded into the walls in the shape of flowers. Originally built for Mumtaj by Shah Jahan, this place tragically served as the prison and later as deathbed of Shah Jahan. The lattice windows of this place offer views of the Taj Mahal which is the mausoleum built by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife. It was disheartening to learn that Shah Jahan spent the last years of his life looking at that same view after being imprisoned there by his son Aurangzeb until he died in 1666.

Musamman Burj
The balcony of Musamman Burj with the view of Taj Mahal in the backdrop

The Diwan i Aam was an open courtyard for public hearing. The famous Peacock Throne was originally established here. Finally, in front of the Diwan i Aam is an incongruously placed grave of John Colvin, a lieutenant governor of the erstwhile North West Provinces, who died of cholera during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Unable to take the corpse outside, it was buried there itself.

Once you’ve seen the Taj Mahal you must see the fort. Understanding the connection between the two is very important. It is highly recommended hiring a guide to give you a tour and talk about the history because a lot of anecdotes lie within the ramparts of this fort. Learning about how the Mughals lived, understanding their cultural norms and relating to the past historical events is very important while visiting this fort.

The Agra Fort, forever in the shadow of Taj Mahal is not talked about much but is perhaps historically even more important than the Taj Mahal. As a history buff, to visit the Agra Fort was really a knowledgeable experience for me after visiting the Taj Mahal. The view of the Taj Mahal from the Diwan i Khas will remain in memory. For visitors coming to Agra, the Agra Fort is worthy of inclusion in a travel itinerary in its own right. Do share your experiences in the comments section below. Keep Travelling & Spread Love.

Soul Esplanade

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November 22, 2016 2:00 pm

What a lovely and detailed post on Agra fort. I have been to Agra many times but never visited fort -never knew it’s so beautiful. Thanks for this lovely post