After his victories over the Rajputs, Akbar commemorated his achievement by the building of a new capital. The city was called Fatehpur Sikri and was close to the imperial fort of Agra. Here, within six kilometers of defensive wall, Akbar built palaces, courts of audience, hunting lodges, mosques and triumphal portals.
The city was abandoned soon after its construction, and the reason for this was the lack of any reliable water supply for its inhabitants. Its disuse as a city during the Mughal period is the reason why its buildings have come down to us almost intact, without the changes effected by later emperors on other imperial sites such as Agra, Allahabad and Delhi.
This means that Akbar’s genius at building can be seen fully here, as also his finely developed aesthetic sense. Both formally and in their detailing, the buildings at Sikri are a fine blend of Timurid planning and aesthetics and Rajput art and architecture.
Site Plan : Fatehpur Sikri Fatehpur Sikri : Palaces
Apart from its outer wall, Fatehpur Sikri was not really designed for a sustained defence, that role being assigned to the fort of Agra close by. The city is situated on a hilltop, and beyond the walls was the old town, of which little survives today. The highest point of the ridge is occupied by the main mosque and Sheikh Salim’s dargah. The palace itself, placed across the ridge, is divided into four principal parts – the daulat khana or treasury in the centre, the haram sara or queen’s chambers, a princes’ palace and ammunition stocks. The palace is entered ceremoniously from the Hathi Pol or elephant gate facing the lake (now dry!)
The palace complex itself is dominated by a central court (b) with water bodies and fountains, in the centre of which is a pavilion for music.
Of the buildings clustered around the court, the diwan-i-am (hall of public audience) (a), the diwan-i-khas (hall for private audience) (b), Jodha Bai’s palace (c), Birbal’s palace (d), the Nagina mosque (f) and the five-storeyed Panch Mahal (g) are noteworthy. All are disposed around the central court in such a manner as to recall Gujarati cluster planning.
The diwan-i-khas which is a two-storey building with four chhatris on top is noted for its great central column, in which radiating serpentine brackets support the emperor’s dais and throne, from which four walkways connect it to the sides.
The haram sara is connected to emperor’s private chambers by a screened viaduct. This building consists of queens’ apartments around a central court. The scheme resembles in planning the Raj Mahal at Orchha. Its introverted form with a single gate was well suited for the days when women were still screened from public view. The Nagina Masjid to the north of the haram sara served as the queens’ private place of worship.
Fatehpur Sikri is also known for two more buildings – the gem of a dargah of Sheikh Salim Chisti, and the Buland Darwaza.
The Buland Darwaza is a massive gate mounted on steps, which faces the old town. It was built to commemorate Akbar’s military victory over Gujarat. This great triumphal portal leads into the mosque court, one corner of which is occupied by Sheikh Chisti’s dargah. This tomb with its filigree screens and exquisite carving was originally planned in red sandstone, but was finally made entirely of marble at the beginning of Jahangir’s reign.
Fatehpur Sikri itself grants Akbar pride of place as a builder in the history of India. But there was still more to come – tombs, mosques, palaces and civil structures. As a remarkable man who not only won and consolidated political and military power but also patronized the arts and sciences, Akbar has rightly won the sobriquet of ‘the Great’.