Can you justify a trip to India without visiting its spectacular and historic palaces and monuments? Maybe – but it would be a shame, if not an outright waste, to leave without seeing Fatehpur Sikri, the ancient city that once claimed the title ‘capital of the Mughal empire’.
Fatehpur Sikri is known as the ‘City of Victory’, although this title feels somewhat ironic, given that it only survived for 10 years as the capital before being abandoned entirely. Left untouched for 400 years, it now serves as a standing – albeit eerie – testament to some of the Mughal Empire’s most impressive and stunning architecture. This was not a dynasty that was shy of showcasing its wealth.
Built in 1571, the red sandstone city was designed as a religious compound by the Emperor Akbar, in honour of Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, who predicted the birth of his son. Two more heirs followed. Filled with palaces, temples and mosques, the city is an enduring testament to the emperor’s architectural prowess – a mesh of Islamic and Hindu influences and styles, fed by Akbar’s love of culture, literature and art.
Wander through and experience the full history of this ghost city.
Fatehpur Sikri was a city designed with luxury in mind. Squint and you can practically see the opulence that was once inside. After all, Akbar built separate palaces for each of his three favourite wives; this was not an emperor who held back.
Akbar’s own residence is one of Fatehpur Sikri’s most important buildings: the Panch Mahal. Made of four tiers that decrease in size, it is topped with a pavilion and held up by 84 columns.
Away from the palaces, Fatehpur Sikri is home to one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid (or Friday Mosque). Personally overseen by Akbar, the mosque is still in use today and has become a pilgrimage site for believers. The non-devout can bask in all 540ft of its spectacular architecture, which blends Persian detailing with Islamic art.
Make your way to the marble tomb of Salim Chishti. Intricately decorated with mother-of-pearl mosaic, this is also visited by pilgrims… in their droves. A trip here is all about timing. Go at sunset or sunrise and prepare for the truly spectacular: red sandstone domes and walls standing out against a red sky.
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Fatephur Sikri is in the Agra district, about 24 miles from Agra.
From sunrise to sunset.
Tickets are Rs 550 for foreigners.
A water bottle is allowed. It’s also worth taking a smaller bag if you can, so you get through security a bit quicker. Pack a map.
Phones have to be switched off once inside and visitors are asked to keep quiet. It’s also worth noting that public displays of affection by couples are frowned upon, so keep it discreet. Hands off the walls and monuments, too.
India is a conservative country and this is a religious site, so keep your shoulders and knees covered out of respect for the culture.
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