The city of Agra
Best known of as the home of the Taj Mahal, the city of Agra offers so much more. Rich in history, culture and industry, you’d need more than one day to give Agra enough time to see even some of its most famous sights.
The city has wonders of its own that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s no wonder that a city with such a fascinating history has so many interesting places to visit.
While many date the city of Agra from the 1500s, the city is actually much older. The poet Khwaja Masud bid s'ad bin Salman refers to the invasion of Agra and its fort in 1080. Other early documents mention the existence of a fort on the banks of the Yamuna.
The year 1192 saw massive political turmoil in northern India. The Turks overthrew the current rulers. Then they dominated the region for about three hundred years.
In the late 1400s, Sikandar Lodi conquered the city and made it into a center of culture. He moved his capital from Delhi to Agra in 1506. Sikandar’s son Ibrahim assumed control when Sikandar died in 1517. Nine years later, Ibrahim lost his life and his city when Babur, leader of the Moghuls, invaded.
The Moguls seized many treasures when they conquered Agra. Among them was the famous Kohinoor diamond.
Babur, the first Moghul emperor, started to develop the city, introducing Moghul-style gardens. He also constructed a huge baoli within the fort. A baoli is an intricately carved well with shallow steps that descend to the bottom. These were necessary to capture rainfall during the monsoon, and to keep this water for the dry season. Moghul baolis, like most of their architecture, was beautiful and symmetrical.
For several more generations, the Moghuls ruled over Agra. The city became known for its art, culture, trade and became a center of Islamic education. Many have called the time of the Moghul empire the Golden Age of Agra. During this time, Shah Jenan built his masterpieces of architecture. These include the Taj Mahal and the Moti Masjid.
Shah Jenan was not so brilliant when it came to military matters. His expeditions nearly bankrupted the empire, which began its long decline after his reign.
In the 1700s, the empire started to fracture. Control of north India shifted between various powers. Different branches of the Moghuls, the Iranians, the Maratha, and the British struggled for control. The British succeeded in 1803.
The Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 was the first major revolt against British power. After the mutiny was defeated, the seat of power in the region moved to Allahabad. These centuries of turmoil took their toll on the city and its monuments. Constant warfare and weakened rulers paved the way for the monuments to be plundered.
Today Agra is a bustling, vibrant city with much to offer visitors. Tourism, of course, is a dominant industry. Handicrafts, such as the marble inlay that you’d see in the wall of the Taj Mahal, are for sale in many locations.
But Agra is more than tourism. About 40% of the population work in agriculture. There are also leather and footwear manufacturers, as well as iron foundries and carpet makers.
Building on its heritage, Agra continues to be home to many educational institutions. Agra College, one of the oldest in India, was founded in 1823. Under the British, Agra became a center for Hindu literature.
Places to See in Agra
The Agra Fort is sometimes called the Red Fort, because it is made of red sandstone. The Mohgul Emperor Akbar renovated and expanded the old fort that existed since before the year 1000. Shah Jahan converted the fort into a palace. He reworked much of the fort with marble.
Within the walls of the fort are many buildings. These include the Pearl Mosque, the Mirrored Palace, and public and private audience halls.
Fatehpur Sikri (City of Victory) was built by Emperor Akbar just west of Agra. Akbar used it as his capital for about ten years. One of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid, is just one of the monuments and temples located in this beautiful city. The buildings are made of red sandstone and all follow the same architectural style.
Beyond those sites, there are a few others worth visiting. Itmad-ud-Dualah’s tomb is another white marble tomb built in typically Moghul style. In contrast, Akbar’s tomb mixes many architectural styles. This sets it apart from other famous Moghul tombs.
If you’re looking for something constructed more recently, then Dayal Bagh (Garden of the Merciful) may be the place for you. Located just 15 kilometers from Agra, it is the headquarters for the Radhasoami faith. The white marble building is 110 feet high and was begun 100 years ago. Members of the faith believe the construction should never stop, so it continues to this day.
And then there is the Kinari Bazaar. This is a place to watch people, and take in the sounds and sights of India. Marble, stone carvings, jewelry, spices, clothing, fabrics, shoes, and snacks.
Interesting Facts About Agra
Agra sits on the banks of the river Yamuna in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is in the northern part of India. The river bends as it passes through the city. Two of the city’s most famous buildings, the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort are on the river in different parts of the bend.
The city has a population of about 1.6 million, making it the 19th largest city in India. To compare, only four cities in the United States are larger.
Like much of northern India, Agra’s climate is semi-arid, bordering on humid sub-tropical. This means winters are mild, summers are hot and dry, followed by a monsoon season.
The hottest months are April to June. Average temperatures during those months are over 100 degrees. Since the climate is usually dry, the monsoon isn’t as heavy as it is further south. But during July and August, Agra averages over 200 inches of rain per month.
Most people speak either Hindi, Urdu or English, making it easy for English-speaking visitors. The major religion is Hindu, with 80% of the population. Another 15% are Muslim.