What is the Agra Fort?

Brendan McGuigan

Agra Fort is a walled city in India. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1983. Agra Fort is also referred to as the Red Fort of Agra, or the Lal Qila. Agra Fort has played an incredibly important role for centuries in India, and is second only to the Taj Mahal in terms of widespread recognition.

Agra Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in India.
Agra Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in India.

A fort originally occupied the region as early as the 11th century, although at this point it was still relatively small and unimportant. In the 15th century the Sultan of Delhi, Sikandar Lodi, handled the governance of his realm from Agra Fort, and it became essentially a second capital. His son continued to govern from the fort, and during his time in command added a number of important buildings to the complex.

The Mughals eventually took Agra Fort in the 16th century, and with it the immense Kohinoor diamond. It was during the era of Mughal control that Agra Fort truly rose to prominence. Akbar completely redid the fort, replacing the original brick with red sandstone, and turning it into a massive fortress. His rebuilding of Agra Fort took eight years, cost more than three-million rupees, and used nearly one-and-a-half million laborers.

Shah Jahan, Akbar’s grandson, later further added to the fort. His additions embodied many of the same visual sensibilities used in his Taj Mahal, including white marble and more ornate insets. Eventually, Shah Jahan was deposed, and lived out the remainder of his life in the Musamman Burj within Agra Fort, held under house arrest by his son.

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The walls of Agra Fort are more than 70 feet (21m) high, with battlements interspersed along the double ramparts. Each side contains a single fortified gate. The most important of the four gates in Agra Fort is the Delhi Gate, and was constructed as the king’s gate. The Dehli Gate is the most fortified of the gates, with a crooked entrance and a massive drawbridge. It is not open to the public, however, since it opens into the northern section of Agra Fort, which is still actively used by the Indian army. Instead, most tourists enter through the Lahore Gate.

Inside the Agra Fort are a number of structures, some of which are open to the public, and some of which are not. The Diwan-i-Khas and Diwan-i-Am, or Halls of Private and Public Audience are two popular sites, where the rulers of the Mughal Empire used to meet with visiting royalty and the common people. The Diwan-i-Am is perhaps best known for housing the Peacock Throne, before being seized by the Persians and ultimately destroyed. The Rang Mahal, Jehangiri Mahal, Khas Mahal, Shah Jahani Mahal, and Sheesh Mahal are all also within the Agra Fort, and each offer distinct architecture and views into different eras of the Mughals.

The various mosques of Agra Fort are also quite renowned. Among these are the Gem Mosque, or Nagina Masjid, built for the women of the court to pray, the Heavenly Mosque, or Mina Masjid, which is not open for viewing, and the Pearl Mosque, or Moti Masjid, which served as Shah Jahan’s personal mosque.

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