Marvels of the Mughals
You have traveled all the way to see the Taj Mahal—now what? Fortunately, the city of Agra is dotted with spellbinding architecture
- By Megan Gambino
- Smithsonian.com, August 17, 2011
Agra Fort at dawn. (© David Noton Photography / Alamy)
There is some evidence, including a mention of a fort in an 11th-century collection of poems, for scholars to believe that Agra Fort has been around for more than 2,500 years. But the appearance of the structure as it stands today, a Unesco World Heritage site, is mostly credited to Akbar the Great, the third Mughal emperor of India, who ruled from 1556 to 1605. As the story goes, Akbar arrived in the city of Agra in 1558 and led a renovation of the then-dilapidated fort. Every day for eight years about 4,000 builders worked on the 94-acre imperial city and its 70-foot-high, 1.5-mile-long double-reinforced walls.
Nearly a century later, Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal just two miles away from Agra Fort on the opposite bank of the Yamuna River, added white marble palaces and mosques amid the city’s red sandstone buildings. To visitors, the castle-like fort and its many reception rooms might seem like a luxurious place to live—and, of course, to some it was. But for others, held there against their will, it was a prison.
In 1658, Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan’s third son, killed his two brothers and jailed his father in the fort’s Musamman Burj, a tower with a balcony that overlooked Shah Jahan’s precious Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan remained there eight years until his death.