The Agra Fort is an amazing complex of buildings, mosques, and monuments. Their size and beauty show visitors Agra’s importance in Indian history.
Agra Fort History
The fort sits on a bend in the Yamuna River and it built on the site of a fort that was built before the year 1000. The first Sultan of Delhi, Sikander Lodi, moved his capital from Delhi to Agra around the year 1503. Sikander and his son built several palaces, wells and a mosque on the fort’s territory.
Sikander died in battle in 1517. His son took over, and continued the fight for nine more years. Then he lost control of the fort, his realm and his life to the invading Moghuls.
In 1558, the third Moghul emperor Akbar came to Agra. He saw the strategic importance of the fort, and began to renovate it. He chose to use red sandstone for much of the building. This is the reason the fort is often called the “Red Fort.”
Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, did extensive construction on the grounds of the fort. He used his favorite material, white marble, for much of his building. This is the same material he used to construct the building his is best known for—the Taj Mahal.
Toward the end of his life, Jahan’s son deposed him and held him prisoner in the fort. According to legend, Jahan died on the Muasamman Burj. From this tower, he could see the Taj Mahal and think of his beloved wife who was entombed there.
The Marathas captured the fort in the early 1700s. Over the next century, control of the fort changed hands many times. Finally, in 1803, the British seized control. The British East India Company controlled much of north India for about 50 years.
In 1857, the Agra Fort became the center of the Sepoy Rebellion. This was an uprising against the British rule. The rebellion was unsuccessful. As a result, the British Crown assumed direct control over much of India. This rule ended when India achieved independence in 1947.
Agra Fort Design
The fort’s builders used the river as part of the fort’s defenses. The semi-circular fort is surrounded by a massive 70-foot-high wall. Huge circular bastions placed at regular intervals provide additional defense. An inner wall provided added protection.
Four gates provided access to the fort. One of these led to the river.
The most important gate was the Delhi Gate, built around 1568. This gate led to the city from the fort’s western side. It is widely thought to the be grandest of the gates. It certainly was a masterpiece of strategic defense.
The Delhi Gate functioned both as a defensive structure and the king’s formal gate. Its design served both purposes. It is constructed of white marble, decorated with inlay work. A wooden drawbridge allowed people to cross the moat and enter the gate. A short walkway led to a second gate, called the Elephant Gate. It was guarded by two life-sized stone statues of elephants.
The path from the outer Delhi Gate to the Elephant Gate was a slight ascent and made a 90 degree turn. This made the entrance to the fort almost impregnable. At that time, elephants were used to besiege cities or forts. They were only effective if they had a straight level space to run and gather speed. The slope and turn in the space between the outer and inner gates meant elephants could not be used to attack the fort.
One of the first structures built by the Moghuls within the fort’s walls was a massive baori. This is a large well with steps that descend. By ensuring a water supply, the Moghuls could withstand prolonged sieges.
Agra Fort Inside
From historical records, we know that the Lodi and early Moghul emperors constructed over 500 buildings on the territory of the fort. Many of these were torn down by Shah Jahan. He needed to clear space so he could build white marble palaces.
One unique feature of the fort is the mix of Hindu and Islamic architecture. Islamic laws forbid the use of images of living creatures. Because of this, Islamic architecture uses geometric patterns and calligraphy for decoration.
But in the Agra Fort, there are images of dragons, elephants and birds. Other sections show central Asian influences in the architecture. These reflect the Afghan roots of the Moghuls emperors.
One unique feature of the fort is the mix of Hindu and Islamic architecture. Islamic laws forbid the use of images of living creatures. Because of this, Islamic architecture uses geometric patterns and calligraphy for decoration. But in the Agra Fort, there are images of dragons, elephants and birds
When the British took control, they destroyed many of the surviving buildings to make room for army barracks. Still, about 30 of the beautiful Moghul structures remain. These include the Delhi-Gate, Akbari-Gate and ‘Bengali-Mahal.’ This gives us an idea of what the fort looked like.
One of the surviving palaces is the Shish Mahal, or the Mirror Palace. Its walls were inlaid with tiny mirrors.
Along the eastern side of the fort the Musamman Burj stands. This eight-sided white marble tower is part of the Khas Majal, a palace constructed of white marble.
In front of the palace stands the Hauz-i-Jehangir, which is a huge bowl carved out of a single block of stone. It stands five feet tall, is eight feet in dimeter, and boasts a rim circumference of 25 feet. There are steps on both the inside and outside, and an inscription on the side dates from 1610. Members of the sultan’s harem used this massive bowl for bathing.
Another fascinating feature of the Agra Fort is the vast maze of subterranean rooms. Built in two stories, this complex of rooms, stairways, corridors and tunnels was located below the palaces on the river side of the fort.
The underground rooms proved secret connection between different parts of the palace. They also housed the sultan’s harem, which at times number over 500 women, not including maids, servants, and guards.
There were a few other uses for the underground rooms. One of the first-floor rooms was used for executions. Many other rooms were used to store the treasury, gold coins, and jewelry. Today these rooms are closed to the public.
Agra Fort 10 Facts
- When Akbar renovated the fort in the mid-1550s, he employed 4,000 builders. They labored for eight years and completed the work in 1573.
- The walls of the fort measure 70 feet high.
- The first line of the fort's defense was the crocodile-infested moat, which was 30 feet wide and 32 feet deep.
- The walls of the fort contain an area of 94 acres.
- The legendary Peacock Throne was housed in the Agra Fort. Among the jewels embedded in the throne was the famous Kohinoor Diamond.
- Under the Moghuls, the fort housed the state treasury and the emperor’s largest mint.
- You can see the Taj Mahal from the fort from several vantage points. Both structures sit on different parts of a bend in the Yamuna River, which makes it easy to see from one to the other.
- The Agra Fort plays an important role in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Sign of the Four.”
- The Indian military still uses a section of the fort. This part is off-limits to visitors.
- The fort is one of three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Agra.