Red Fort Delhi (Lal Qila) – A witness to making and breaking of empires

Red Fort Delhi (Lal Qila) – A witness to making and breaking of empires

8 minutes read

Located in the heart of Delhi (Old Delhi) Red Fort or Lal Qila is one of the most iconic and magnificent monuments of India. Red Fort (Lal Qila) gets its name from its massive red sandstone walls, which make the fort almost impenetrable to invaders. Red Fort Delhi (Lal Qila) was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Its construction commenced in 1639 and was completed in 1648; originally it was called Qila-i-Mubārak which means ‘Blessed Fort’. Ustad Ahmad Lahauri who also designed very famous Taj Mahal is credited with the design of the Red Fort of Delhi. 

When Shah Jahan shifted capital from Agra to Delhi and created the seventh city of Delhi and named it Shahjahanabad, Red Fort was built as part of this city as the official residence of the Mughal royalties.  This city truly reflected the Mughal grandeur. The fact that 5 out of 19 buildings of this city called Shahjahanabad were built under the supervision of Jahanara Begum the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan point toward the fact that Mughals were really passionate toward this project.

Red Fort through the centuries – Overview:

After the Mughal capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi, Red Fort became the official residence of Mughal emperors, taking over the status from the Agra Fort; it held the status of the main residence of Mughal emperors for about 200 years (until 1857). The palace’s architecture is planned in accordance with Islamic prototypes. Red Fort is built in Indo-Islamic, Mughal architectural style. The architecture of the fort reflects a fusion of Timurid and Persian traditions.

In 1747, during Nadir Shah’s invasion of the Mughal empire and Red Fort was robbed of most its jewels and artwork. And after the revolt of 1857 precious marble structures of the fort were ruined by the British. It was Red Fort where the British had put Bahadur Shah Zafar (last Mughal emperor) on trial before he was exiled to Rangoon in 1858.

Red Fort is a major tourist spot of Delhi, it also houses four museums. It’s a world-renowned architectural wonder and is one of the greatest masterpieces of Mughal times. it is a UNESCO world heritage site which is visited by millions of tourists every year. Red Fort is not just any historical monument, even today it holds great significance to the country, every year on Independence Day (August 15) the Prime Minister of India address citizens of India from this colossal fort and hoists the Indian Flag on it.

Red Fort

History of Red Fort

As the Mughal capital was getting shifted from Agra to Delhi, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan ordered the construction of Red Fort, the construction of this magnificent fort began in the sacred month of Muharram. In contrary to other Mughal Forts the boundary walls to the Red Fort are asymmetrical; these were made such to contain the older Salimgarh Fort.

The fortress palace was the central point of the medieval city of Shahjahanabad which is known as old Delhi to the present day. The monument represents architectural greatness of Mughal times.  Pearl mosque was added to the emperor’s private quarters by Aurangzeb, in front of the two main gates he constructed barbicans to make the entrance to the palace more twisting.

Red Fort after Aurangzeb:

After the reign of Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb Mughal dynasty saw a great downfall. And 18th century witnessed degeneration of this complex. For a period of 30 years, the fort remained without an emperor. It was finally in 1712 that Jahandar Shah took over the throne and with that Red Fort had a new master after years.

Farrukhsiyar murdered Jahandar Shah within a year of his kingship. Shortly after he decided to replace the silver ceiling of the Rang Mahal with copper so he could raise money.

Nadir Shah’s Invasion:

In 1719 Muhammad Shah Rangila took over the Red Fort for his interest in art. In 1739 Nadir Shah, a Persian emperor defeated the Mughal army, he robbed the fort of its most precious articles including the peacock throne. By this time Mughal empire was in despair, after bringing the Mughal empire to its knees Nadir Shah returned to Persia and Muhammad Shah was left with a destroyed empire.

Weakening of Mughals and change of ownership of Red Fort

By this time Mughal empire had grown extremely weak and by now they were merely titular heads of Delhi. In 1752 through a treaty, the Marathas became the masters of the throne and also Red Fort. In 1760 in order to raise funds to defend Delhi from Ahmed Shah Durrani’s army, the Marathas took off and melted the silver ceiling of Diwan I Khas. Hence once again its grandeur has reduced a notch.

Red Fort and Delhi were briefly conquered by Sikh Misl Karorisinghia in 1738. Maratha garrison came in possession of Red Fort in 1788 and for nearly 2 decades they ruled over north India; until British East India company got control of the region after second Anglo Maratha was of 1803.

After, Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled in 1858 the British looted valuables from the fort. The furniture was either destroyed or removed. The gardens, harem apartments and servant quarters were destroyed to build barracks. The British destroyed more than two third of the structures from within the Fort. The defensive walls, however, remained relatively unharmed.

Red Fort

Red Fort in 20th century:

After hurting the monument greatly, towards the late 19th and early 20th century the British finally thought to not degrade it further. The then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon initiated the repair of the monument which included reconstruction of the walls, garden restoration along with a watering system.

A lot of jewels, artwork, and valuables were looted from the fort during Nadir Shah’s Invasion. These were later sold to a private collector or British Museum. Valuables like Kohinoor diamond, the crown of Bahadur Shah Zafar and jade wine cup of Shah Jahan are currently in possession of Britain.

Post 1947 the Indian Army occupied the fort a period of time. It was later handed over to Archaeological Survey of India for the purpose of restoration.


The massive fort spreads across an area of about 254 acres. The defensive walls surrounding the fort measures about 2.4 km. The difference in the size of walls is prominent; on the riverside, its height is about 18 meters and on the city side its about 33 meters.

Red Fort today

Although two third of the Structures from within the Fort have been damaged or destroyed in the past; some of the majestic structures that are present to date are Mumtaz Mahal, Khas Mahal, Moti Masjid, Hira Mahal, Rang Mahal, Sawan, Bhado pavilion and Hammam.  Apart from these, the monument houses a number of museums.

Layout and Main structures of Red Fort Delhi:

You will enter this majestic monument through what is known as Lahore Gate. The gate will then lead you to Chatta Chowk, which is a covered street that has arched cells bordering it. Back then it was a place for most talented craftsmen like carpet makers, jewelers, goldsmith, and weavers, where they used to sell their products to the Royals. This covered street was called Meena Bazar. Meena Bazar was primarily organized exclusively for the royal ladies on Fridays.

Naubat Khana, Red Fort
Naubat Khana

As you go further, few meters from Chatta chowk appears the Naubat Khana the Musicians used to play for the royalties from there; the arrival of the royals was also announced from Naubat Khana. From here starts the inner and primary complex of Red Fort. As one walks further they can admire the beauty of the prominent structures of this Mughal Marvel. 

Diwan I Am

Diwan I am was the place where the king used to address the problems and complaints of the public. Diwan I Am is Chusath Khamba structure (64 pillars), it has total to 64 pillars. Most part of Diwan I am is built with red sandstone, but the king had a special place which was built with white marble and was adorned with precious and semi-precious stones and Jewels.

Diwan I Am, Red Fort
Diwan I Am

Diwan I Khas

Diwan I Khas was the part of this complex where the emperor used to hold a meeting with his ministers. This white marble structure was adorned with precious and semi-precious gemstones and metals. It is said that when the moonlight used to fall on the precious jewels adorned in the walls and pillars of this structure it made it look like paradise. Describing the same there is a quote prescribed in here which reads “Agar fardos ba rue Zamin ast Hamin ast a hamin ast a hamin ast” meaning If there is paradise on earth it’s here it’s here.

Diwan I Khas,
Diwan I Khas

Sawan and Badho Pavilions

There are two white Marble structures built in front of each other, it is said that during summers when the king wanted to feel the joy of rain his people used to cover the area between Sawan and Badho Pavilions and fountains were turned o to give the effect of rains. King used to enjoy this from either of the pavilions.  

Sheesh Mahal (The Mirror Palace)

This white marble structure was adorned with mirrors hence was named Sheesh Mahal. This was a private dancing hall where royal dancers used to dance for the emperor. In this structure right in front of the seat of the emperor is a fountain and the ceiling of this hall had mirrors which gave the illusion of a number of dancing women even if it was just one dancing in real.

Other prominent structures of Red Fort include a private mosque called Moti Masjid and graceful gardens ‘Hammam’ or the royal bath; private working area of Shah Jahan called Shahi Burj, Rang Mahal, here the wives and mistresses of the emperor live. 

Open to visitors Tuesday to Sunday
Closed on Monday
Timings 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m
Location Old Delhi, India
Construction Started May 12, 1639
Construction Finished 6 April 1648
Architect Ustad Ahmad Lahori
Owners Mughal Empire From 1639 to 1857
  British Empire From 1857 to 1947
  Government of India 1947 onwards
Area Approx 254 acres
Map of Red Fort

Wanderer’s Comment:

Red Fort is undoubtedly one of the most significant monuments of India. Today this importance perhaps is even more as it holds Indian flag on top as its crown. Also, there is no doubt that it is a beautiful example of the Mughal architecture. As we explore this stunning heritage today, we can’t help wonder what its grandeur would have been with all the gold silver copper ceilings and all the diamonds, gemstones studded in its walls.

Sadly, more than 60% of this structure is not even there today. We actually can’t even imagine the greatness of our loss because we never saw it with our eyes. Anyways that does not mean there is nothing to see today. Still there is a lot to see. So, go and explore heritages like these and experience glimpse of our past. Happy wandering.    


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