Qutub Minar is an enormous minaret in India. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1993. Qutub Minar has the distinction of being the tallest brick minaret in the world, at 238 feet (72m).
The site where Qutub Minar now stands appears to have once been the site of a number of Jain temples. Some Jain religious iconography can still be found around the area, mostly depicting various tirthankar of the Jain pantheon. The Jain temples were eventually destroyed during the Muslim period, and the stones recycled to help build the Qutub Minar and some of the surrounding structures.
The Qutub Minar was inspired directly by the Minaret of Jam, the second-tallest brick minaret in the world, in Afghanistan. Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who was the first adherent of Islam to rule Delhi, wanted to construct the Qutub Minar to surpass the Minaret of Jam, to demonstrate his devotion to the new religion. He began constructing the Qutub Minar in the late-12th century, but only got as far as building the foundation before he died. Iltutmish, who succeeded him, continued working on the Qutub Minar, adding another three full stories before he died. Finally, in the mid 14th century, Firuz Shah Tughluq completed the minaret.
The entire Qutub Minar is covered in various inscriptions from the Qur’an, and is made from bricks of red sandstone, as is the Minaret of Jam. The Qutub Minar, like all minarets, was used as a place to issue the call to prayer, calling the faithful to the mosque of Quwwat-ul-Islam. It also acted as a highly visible symbol for all of Delhi that Islam had come to the region and reigned victorious over Hinduism.
Although the Qutub Minar used to be open for the public, it is now closed off. In the 1980s, a number of people were killed when an electrical failure within the minaret sparked a stampede. There are 378 steps leading to the top of the Qutub Minar, and before its closing it was a very popular site, both for tourists and for those looking to commit suicide by jumping. A popular legend also held that anyone who could encircle the minaret with their arms while leaning against it would have any one wish completed, although this practice was barred even before its closing, as a result of the damage sweat caused to the sandstone bricks.
Over the years the Qutub Minar has been damaged a number of times. Early on the minaret was severely damaged by a large earthquake, and the damage was repaired by Firoz Shah. It was again damaged in the early-16th century, but was again rebuilt by Sikandar Lodi. In the late-18th century another earthquake damaged the minaret, and this time it was a Major Smith who rebuilt it, replacing part of the upper pavilion with a pavilion of his own design, although that new pavilion was removed in the mid-19th century.
The Qutub Minar can be seen from virtually everywhere in Delhi, and is a very popular destination for visitors to the city. It is impressive in its scope, its historical importance, and in the beauty of the scriptures carved into it. Its height makes it the largest free-standing tower in the world, beating out the Leaning Tower of Pisa by a healthy margin, and its important proclamation of Muslim dominance in the region serves as testament to the might of the Mughal Empire in India.