The Red Fort or 'Lal Qila' remained the residence of the Mughal emperors for nearly 200 years, until 1857. Let’s have a look at its history, architecture, buildings etc.

Red Fort

Fast Facts

Location: Old Delhi, India

Built By: Shah Jahan

Built in the Year:1648

Purpose: Main residence of Mughal emperors

Area: 254.67 acres

Architect: Ustad Ahmad Lahauri

Architectural styles: Mughal, Indo-Islamic

Current Status: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Open: Tuesday-Sunday; Monday closed

Timings: Sunrise to Sunset

Sound & Light Shows: 6pm onwards in English and Hindi

The Red Fort, which is also known as the Lal Qila, was constructed by one of the most famous Mughal emperors, Shah Jahan. Built on the banks of river Yamuna, the fortress-palace was designed by architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. It took 8 years and 10 months to build the magnificent fort. The fort served as the royal residence of the Mughal emperors from 1648 to 1857. It took over the honor of royal residence from the famous Agra Fort when Shah Jahan decided to shift his capital from Agra to Delhi. The Red Fort derives its name from the red-sandstone walls, which make the fort almost impregnable. The fort, which is located at Old Delhi, is one of the massive and prominent structures of India and is a fine example of Mughal architecture. It is often considered as the pinnacle of Mughal creativity. In modern times, the fort is of importance to the people of India as the Indian Prime Minister delivers his Independence Day speech from the fort, every year on August 15. In 2007, it was declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

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Shah Jahan, the then Mughal emperor decided to build the Red Fort as the citadel of Shahjahanabad, his new capital at Delhi. The fort, which was completely constructed in the year 1648, remained the residence of the Mughal emperors until 1857. Post the reign of Aurangzeb, the Mughal dynasty grew weaker in every aspect and that started taking a toll on the fort. When Farrukhsiyar, the ninth Mughal emperor, took over the reign from Jahandar Shah after murdering him, the fort began to lose its luster, quite literally. During his reign, the silver ceiling of the fort was replaced with copper in order to raise money. This was probably the beginning of the plunder that would go on for years to come. In 1739, Nadir Shah, the Persian emperor defeated the Mughals and took with him some of the valuables belonging to the fort, including the famous peacock throne, which had served as the royal throne of the Mughals. The weakened Mughals had no other option but to sign a treaty with the Marathas, who had promised to protect them and the fort. In 1760, when Ahmed Shah Durrani of the Durrani dynasty threatened to capture Delhi, the Marathas dug out the silver ceiling of Diwan-i-Khas to strengthen their army. However, Ahmed Shah Durrani defeated the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat and took over the fort. The Marathas reconquered the fort in 1771 and stalled Shah Alam II as the 16th Mughal emperor. In 1788, the Marathas occupied the fort and ruled over Delhi for the next 20 years before the British defeated them during the Second Anglo-Maratha War in 1803. 

The fort now was occupied by the British, who even built a residence of their own within the fort. During the Indian rebellion of 1857, Bahadur Shah II, was arrested by the British and later exiled to Rangoon. With Bahadur Shah II, the Mughal Empire came to an end and this opened a window of opportunity for the British to loot valuables from the fort. Almost all furniture were either destroyed or shipped to England. Many edifices and landmarks within the fort were destroyed and barracks of stone replaced them. Many priceless possessions like the Koh-i-Noor diamond, the crown of Bahadur Shah and the wine cup of Shah Jahan were sent to the British government. After independence, the Indian Army occupied a major part of the fort before handing it over to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASA) for restoration purposes.

Layout of the Fort

The Red Fort is spread across an area of 254.67 acres. The defensive wall, enclosing the fort, is measured at 2.41 kilometers. The walls differ in height as they stand at 18 meters on the river side as opposed to the 33 meter high wall on the city side.The fort rises above a wide dry moat in the northeast corner of the medieval city of Shahjahanabad. 

The main entrance of the fort (Lahori Gate) opens at the ‘Chatta Chowk’, a covered street bordered with arched cells that used to house Delhi's most talented jewelers, carpet makers, weavers and goldsmiths.This covered passage was also known as the ‘Meena Bazaar’, which served as the shopping center for the ladies belonging to the court. The ‘Naubat Khana’ or the Drum House is situated a few meters away from the ‘Chatta Chowk’. The musicians would play for the emperor from the ‘Naubat Khana’ and the arrival of princesses and the royalty were heralded from here.

Towards the southern region of the fort stands the majestic Delhi Gate, which is similar in appearance to the main gate. The Red fort contains all the paraphernalia of the Mughal dynasty including the halls of public and private audience (‘Diwan-i-Am’ and ‘Diwan-i-Khas’), domed and arched marble palaces, plush private apartments, a mosque (Moti Masjid) and richly designed gardens. While the emperor would hear complaints of his subjects at the ‘Diwan-i-Am’, he held private meetings at the ‘Diwan-i-Khas’. The fort also houses the Royal Bath or the ‘Hammam’, the ‘Shahi Burj’ (Shah Jahan's private working area) and the famous Pearl Mosque, built by Aurangzeb. In the ‘Rang Mahal’ or the Palace of Colors, lived the Emperor's wives and mistresses.

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Architectural Style

The Red Fort was built by the legendary architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, who is believed to have built the world famous Taj Mahal. The fort is considered a creative structure and as the pinnacle of Mughal inventiveness. Red Fort has many structures that serve as fine examples of Islamic architectural style and Mughal architecture, which fuses the architectural styles of the Timurids and the Persians. The Red Fort is known for its gardens (most of which were destroyed by the British) and a water channel called the Stream of Paradise. This water channel connects many pavilions, an architectural style owned by the Mughals. This kind of architecture went on to inspire the construction of many edifices and gardens in the post-independence era. The fort was also embellished with floral decorations and precious ornaments. It is said that the Kohinoor diamond was part of the decoration that made the interiors look ostentatious.

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Prominent Structures within the Fort

Though as many as 66 percent of the structures within the fort were either destroyed or badly damaged, the Red Fort still houses many historic edifices and some prominent ones are listed below:

  • Mumtaz Mahal – Situated in the women's quarters (zenana) of the fort, Mumtaz Mahal was one of the six palaces within the fort. All these palaces were built along the banks of Yamuna River and were interconnected by the Stream of Paradise. The Mumtaz Mahal was constructed using white marble and embellished with floral decorations. During the British rule, it was put to use as prison camp. Today, Red Fort Archaeological Museum has been set up inside this impressive building.
  • Khas Mahal - The Khas Mahal was used as the emperor’s private residence. The palace was divided into three parts namely the chamber of telling beads, sitting room and sleeping chamber. The palace was decorated with white marble and floral embellishments and the ceiling was gilded. Khas Mahal was connected to ‘Muthamman Burj’, a tower from where the emperor would address his subjects or simply wave at them to acknowledge their presence. 
  • Rang Mahal – The Rang Mahal which literally translates to ‘Palace of Colors’ was built to house the emperor’s mistresses and wives. As the name suggests, the palace was made to look colorful with bright paints and ostentatious decorations. A marble basin, which was installed at the center of the palace, would welcome water flowing from the Stream of Paradise. A basement, under the palace, was used by the women to cool off during the summer.
  • Hira Mahal – Built in 1842 by Bahadur Shah II, the Hira Mahal is probably one of the last structures to have been built by a Mughal emperor before the invasion of the British. It is a mere pavilion but has an interesting legend associated with it. According to the legend, Shah Jahan had hidden a diamond, meant for his first wife, in this very place. The diamond, which is not yet found, is said to be even more precious than the famed Kohinoor.
  • Moti Masjid – Moti Masjid which literally translates to ‘Pearl Mosque’ was built by Aurangzeb for his personal use. Interestingly, the mosque was also used by the inhabitants of the Zenana. Constructed using white marble, Moti Masjid has three domes and three arches. 
  • Hammam – The Hammam is basically a building that housed the baths, used by the emperors. On the eastern apartment, stood the dressing room. In the western apartment, hot water used to flow through the taps. It is said that perfumed rose water was used for bathing purpose. The interiors of Hammam were embellished with floral designs and white marble.
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In Popular Culture

The Red Fort is the largest historical structure in Delhi. Every year, the Prime Minister of India hoists the tricolor flag on every Independence Day. Security around the fort during the Independence Day celebrations is tightened as the place was attacked by terrorists on 22 December in the year 2000. The fort also serves as a major tourist attraction and witnesses thousands of visitors throughout the year. Though many buildings are not in great shape, some are still in good condition and efforts are being taken to conserve what is left of the fort. Three museums namely the museum of blood paintings, war-memorial museum and archaeological museum have been set up inside the fort.In the newly released currency note of rupees 500, the fort appears on the back of the note, implying its importance even in the post-independence era.