Architectural Evolution Of Old Delhi

Delhi is quintessentially Indian because just like the latter, it is all-inclusive. It is only reasonable that its architectural evolution be the same. The city has innumerable monuments– big and small, in this article, we will only take a look at their architectural details.

Furthermore, Delhi is a layered mix of all the seven cities in the different eras that it stood witness to. Below are 10 different monuments that perfectly capture the evolving architecture of Old Delhi under different dynasties. 

1. Anang Tal

Surajkund- dried lake near Anangtal
Surajkund, near Anangtal

Anangtal was built during Tomar dynasty’s reign in the city of Lal Kot (Delhi’s original ‘red fort’. Here is how to get to the ramparts of this fort.) This was built as a water reservoir within the premises of Qila Rai Pithora. Rajput-period ‘mason marks’ or symbols engraved on the semi-dressed stones, such as a swastika, drums, and circle divided into four parts, are some of the architectural features of the tank to look for.

The closeby Anangpur dam was also built by Anangpala II. Like most of the buildings of that period, it is made entirely out of quartzite. You can see steps running around the tank with a gap for a stone ramp. These were for elephants to use when they were bathed. 

2. Agrasen Ki Baoli

Agrasen Ki Baoli
Agrasen Ki Baoli

Another Baoli that deserves a special mention is the Agrasen Ki Baoli. It has unique features that resemble both Tughlaq and Lodhi dynasty styles and architecture.

The baoli has three stories. There are three levels in walls. They have arched corridors with niches. They were put there to ensure reachability to any subterranean water available. The baoli is long dried-up. The name of the Baoli comes from a mythical king who created a kingdom based on trade and industry. The king is an ancestor of the Argawal group who is a very prominent traders group. Visiting hours are 9 AM- 6 PM because many people believe that the baoli is haunted.

2. Qutub Minar

Qutub Minar
Qutub Minar

Qutub-Ud-Din-Aibak in Mehrauli started the construction of this Minar. It was completed by his Son-in-law Illtutmish. This is a 73 mt long tapering tower of five storeys. It has been renovated four times due to destruction by natural calamities and one more storey has been added. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This monument was constructed as a symbol of victory. It is a mix of Indo-Islamic architectural features and designs prevalent during the Delhi Sultanate

Closer look at Qutub Minar

Each storey has a balcony that circles the Minar. The first three storeys are made with red sandstone while the remaining use marble and sandstone. There are inscriptions of the Quran. In addition to Parso-Arabic characters, the exterior walls of Qutub Minar have Nagari character carvings. These carvings carry Afghanistani pattern intermixed with Indian in form of local artistic conventions having garlands and lotus borders

3. Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid

Quwwat-ul-islam Mosque
Quwwat-Ul-islam masjid

The ruins of this Mosque also lie within the expanse of Qutub Complex. Sultan Qutb-ud-din Aibak commissioned it along with the Qutub Minar. It was constructed by using the stones from the 27 demolished ancient Jain Temples. Similarly, the entrance has an ornamental dome or Mandap which was also taken from the demolished Jain Temples It has the typical Islamic style of using mud and bricks on the building decorated with glazed tiles. It leads to a flight of steep steps into the interior to the inner courtyard which has corbelled pillars also called as the ‘Sham arch’. These are extensively seen in the architecture of the mosque as they were invented by Hindu masons under duress.

Pillars in Quwwat-Ul-Islam Mosque
Pillars in Quwwat-Ul-Islam Mosque

 The ceilings carvings depict Hindu carvings like floral motifs, bells, ropes, tassels, cows and leaves, etc. Sultan Iltutmish, the successor of Qutb-ud-din Aibak, added three more arches to the existing five. These three arches depict the true Islamic and Arabic style of architecture. Craftsmen from Afghanistan were brought in to carve the arches with Islamic motifs in geometric patterns. This made these three arches vastly different from the other five as they had been carved by local Hindu masons.

4. Alai Minar and Alai Darwaza

Alai Minar
Alai Minar

Alauddin Khiliji started its construction circa 1300. He wanted to commemorate his victories with a tower twice the size of Qutub Minar. To accomplish this, he increased the size of the enclosures of the Quwwat-Ul-Islam Masjid by almost four times. So that he could provide a ceremonial entrance gateway on either side of the mosque. However, he was only able to get on storey done before his death. None of his successors finished it.

Alai Darwaza
Alai Darwaza

 The gateway took shape in the form of Alai Darwaza(1311). Its architectural features are unique because it was the first true dome constructed in India. It was also the first Indian monument with predominant Islamic architectural features. The Alai Gate has a dome-shaped gate made of red sandstone with white marble inlay and inscriptions engraved in the ancient Naskh Script. The window screens are made with Lattice stones. They have unique Turkic craftsmanship seen in embellishments of lotus buds and geometric patterns. 

5. Tughlaqabad Fort

Tughlagabad Fort
Tughlagabad Fort

This massive military-style fort was built by Ghiyas-Ud-Din-Tuglaq to keep the Mongols out. Moreover, it was built in four years. It is a pentagon shape guarded with parapet walls that support massive cone-shaped bastions at every intersection. The corridors are arch-shaped and chambers are concave.

Tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq
Tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq

The tombs in the fort, especially that of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq is a mix of Hindu style of arched beams and Kalsa over the Muslim dome

Satpula Bridge
Satpula Bridge

Apart from this, other works of Tughlaq kings that warrant a mention are- fortified walls named Jahan-Pannah (World Refuge), a seven span bridge called Satpula and Bijai Mandal- the Palace of a Thousand Columns. All of these were built by Muhammad Bin Tuglaq. His style was similar to his father’s.

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Ferozshah Kotla
Ferozshah Kotla

Next notable ruler was Firoz Shah Tuglaq, who built Ferozshah Kotla. He also built Khikri Masjid which is a great example of Islamic architecture. It is a small quadrangle-shaped mosque with a closed roof which is unusual for mosques. There are several domes on the roof along with the latticework on the windows, a typical Islamic style of architecture.

6. Lodi Gardens

Lodi Gardens
Lodi Gardens

Lodhi Gardens is a city park situated in New Delhi, India. It contains Mohammed Shah’s Tomb, Tomb of Sikandar Lodi, Shisha Gumbad and Bara Gumbad,

Ala-ud-din Alam Shah built the tomb of Mohammed Shah in 1444. It is octagonal in shape. There are numerous ornamental Hindu-style chhatris around the central dome, numerous arches, verandahs and turrets at each corner. The Tomb of Sikandar Lodi seems to have heavily drawn inspiration from Sayyid tomb. These are good examples of a combination of the Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture. 

Sheesh Gumbad
Sheesh Gumbad

The Shish Gumbad is constructed in square shape. The design is again a blend of Islamic and Hindu architectural features. The ceiling is decorated with plasterwork of Quranic inscriptions and floral designs. The Gumbad got its name from the blue enameled tile decoration that shone like glass. This architectural period during Sayyid and Lodhi dynasty was known as the period of the macabre (‘maqbara’ or the cemetery in Arabic).

7. Purana Quila 

Purana Quila
Purana Quila

Old Fort is one of the oldest forts in Delhi. Some remains dating from the pre-Mauryan period have also been found here. Humayun started its construction. Sher Shah Suri continued it. The height of the walls is 18 meters, length about 1.5 km. It has three arched gateways- the Bara Darwaza (Big Gate) facing west (still in use today), the south gate (the ‘Humayun Gate’), and the Talaqi Gate (often known as the “forbidden gate”). All the gates are double-storeyed sandstone structures. They are flanked by two huge semi-circular towers which are decorated with white and colored-marble inlays and blue tiles. They are incredibly detailed with ornate overhanging balconies ( jharokhas). The towers are topped by pillared pavilions (chhatris)- a style reminiscent of Rajasthani architecture. 

Quila-i-kuhna mosque
Quila-i-kuhna

Sher Shah also built the single-domed Qila-i-Kuhna Mosque in 1541. It stands in the same complex. It is an excellent example of a pre-Mughal design, with extensive use of the pointed arch. The mosque was constructed in the Afghan style of a congregational mosque based on the architectural tradition of “a five-bay mosque”. This concept was developed during the Sayyid and Lodi dynasties. 

Sher Mandal
Sher Mandal

Sher Mandal is a two-storey octagonal structure made of red sandstone. It was used as a library and an observatory. Humanyun fell from the second storey and died in this building. There is a band of black slate between the two floors. Its architecture is fairly simple. The upper storey has a small chhajjas (overhanging roofs). The middle of the terrace contains a spacious octagonal chhatri. The dados of this storey contain a 12-pointed star because Humayun considered it auspicious. 

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8. Humayun’s Tomb

Humayun's Tomb
Humayun’s Tomb

Humayun’s first wife commissioned this tomb. Mirak Mirza Ghiyas and his son, Sayyid Muhammad designed it. These were Persian architects. It was the first garden-tomb in India. It was the first building with purely Persian features. Although it has several Indian elements as well- the red sandstone and white marble. It was one of the first mausoleums for a Mughal emperor.

Ceiling of Humayun's tomb
Ceiling of the tomb

Several comparisons can be made to 15th century Timurid architecture. For instance, the bulbous double dome on a high drum, a high portal in the front elevation, geometrically arranged colored tilework; and arch-netting in the vaults. The architectural style is a synthesis of the Persian and the Indian. The Persian influence is seen in such elements as the arched alcove in the façade and the shape of the dome along with the arrangement of the rooms in the interior. Meanwhile, Indian influence in the architecture can be seen in the kiosks and cupolas.

9. Red Fort

Red Fort
Red Fort

The fort is in the shape of a parallelogram. A strongly fortified wall surrounds the fort. The walls facing Chandni Chowk are taller than the ones facing the Yamuna. There are two gates- Lahori Gate, which is the western gateway. It was the main and ceremonial entrance.

Pure white marble has been used to decorate the building and it has been inlaid with precious stones. Plaques of black marble are inlaid with rare stones. This technique is known as Pietra Dura. Most of these panels depict single birds and floral motifs, some other depict lions or Indian works. The most different from all the others is the top central panel. It illustrates Orpheus playing his lute and wild animals seated peacefully before him. These marbles, floral decorations, and the double domes exemplify the later Mughal architecture.

The Peacock Throne
The Peacock Throne

The crowning glory- Kohinoor diamond was a part of the furnishings. The artwork in the fort is a combination of Persian, European and Indian art- a unique Shahjahani style. Red Fort is considered the pinnacle of Mughal creativity. 

Take our tour of the Havelis of Old Delhi.

10. Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid
Jama Masjid

The Masjid-e-Jahan-Numa (World-reflecting Mosque), more popularly the Jama Masjid of Delhi, is one of the largest mosques in India. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built it between 1650 and 1656. The mosque is built on an expansive elevated stone platform to give a sense of universal visibility. Moreover, like all mosques, it faces west towards the Holy city of Mecca.

Layout of Jama Masjid
Layout of Jama Masjid

The mosque is covered on three sides with open arched colonnades and lofty tower-like archway in the center. The roof is capped with three marble domes. Alternating black and white marbles have been used in domes and these are capped with gold adornments. Two minarets, with stripes of white marble and red sandstone, flank the domes on either side. Doors of the mosque are made up of wood and are ornamented with copper. Lotus motif is used for inscriptions in many places. Although the calligraphic inscription used in the mosque is Kufic. The mosque also houses several relics including a copy of the Quran written on deerskin. 

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