Brief history of Taj Mahal’s lesser known neighbour Fatehpur Sikri, the abandoned capital of Mughal empire

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Fatehpur Sikri in Uttar Pradesh.

Approximately 45 km away from Agra’s iconic Taj Mahal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies the erstwhile capital of the Mughal empire from 1571-1585 called Fatehpur Sikri. It was abandoned by Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1585 almost after its completion as the spring-fed lake that supplied water to the city dried up. Another reason for its abandonment was it close proximity with the Rajputuna empire, which engaged the Mughals in frequent battles.

After Akbar achieved victory over Chittoor and Ranthambore, he shifted his capital from Agra to a location 37 km west south-west in honour of Sufi saint Salim Chisthi. At this point, he started the construction of a walled city, which took nearly 15 years in planning. This city had a series if royal palaces, courts, mosque harem and several other utility buildings. The city was named ‘Fatehabad’, meaning ‘victorious’. It was later christened as Fatehpur Sikri. Fatehpur Sikri is one of the prime examples of Mughal architecture in the Indian subcontinent. 

Once it was abandoned, the capital was shifted to Lahore. The reason? Akbar wanted to have a base in the relatively vulnerable part of the empire for consolidation before shifting back to Agra in 1598. According to historians, Akbar never returned to Fatehpur Sikri albeit for a short period in 1601. The palace complexes were occupied by the Maratha warriors after their conquest of Delhi, then eventually transferred to the British who fortified the complex and began its restorations under Lord Curzon.

Historians widely believe that Fatehpur Sikri draws some of its architectural influences using Indian principles so much so that the buildings show a unique synthesis of craftsmenship from Gujarat and Bengal. Experts also attribute this synthesis to the usage of Indigenous craftsmen to build the structure. Fatehpur Sikri is a prime example of the heritage of the mighty Mughal empire during its glory days. 

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