Dilli Darshan: Purana Qila and Dilli Sher Shahi

At this point I’ve stopped trying to do my Dilli Darshan chronologically, so this post is about Purana Qila (literally Old Fort) and the remaining structures of what is known as Dilli Sher Shahi, which are from the 16th century, so I’ve jumped a couple of centuries. This is not too bad a thing, because most of the sites I’m going to be posting about from now on have structures from different historical periods, and thus have overlapping layers of building styles and types, much like the Nizamuddin site from the previous post.

Purana Qila

The ramparts of Purana Qila are one of the iconic sights in Delhi. They were built by Humayun and Sher Shah Suri in the first half of the 16th century. The gates of Purana Qila are pretty interesting, especially when compared to the gateways of later Mughal palaces/forts. This was one of the first forts/palace complexes built by the Mughals, so architecturally it is interesting to see the development of the Mughal style from here on out. The only problem with this is that the two remaining buildings inside the fort were probably built by Sher Shah Suri, who was not a Mughal, as were, possibly, the gateways as they are visible today. However, stylistically these are all built very similar to what has become known as the Mughal style. Equally interesting is the stylistic continuity between previous Delhi buildings and the ones at Purana Qila.

Purana Qila ramparts

Rampart details, which are similar to the Siri Fort walls

West gate

West gate detail

South gate – this gate is only partially visible above the treeline inside the Delhi Zoo!

North gate

North gate details

North gate from inside the fort

Rooms and arcades within the fort walls

Pavilions on the “river side” of the fort walls, with the Qila-i-Kohna mosque in the background

Qila-i-Kohna mosque

Apart from these gateways and ramparts, the area inside Purana Qila is a little disappointing, in that there are just two important structures still standing among the gardens maintained by the ASI. However, one of these two structures is the Qila-i-Kohna mosque, built by Sher Shah Suri, which is among the most beautiful mosques in Delhi!

Qila-i-Kohna mosque and underground chambers


Arch treatment of the second (and fourth) bay of the five bayed mosque

Side bay in the foreground

Second and fourth bay arch treatment

Central bay arch treatment

Qila-i-Kohna interior

Central bay interior squinches

Second and fourth bay side-mihrabs

Shallow dome and pendentive detailing on the second and fourth bay ceilings

Rear wall of mosque

Qila-i-Kohna mosque from baoli

Sher Mandal

The second remaining structure is the Sher Mandal, a secular palace structure which is said to have been a library or astronomical observation building, and running down the stairs of which Humayun is said to have fallen and died.

Sher Mandal

Sher Mandal and Qila-i-Kohna

Sher Mandal from hammam. The smoke stacks in the background are of a power plant nearby to the fort

Khairul Manazil

Khairul Manazil was a mosque and madrasa built just outside, and just after, the Purana Qila by one of Akbar’s (Humayun’s son’s) courtiers. It lies across a major throughfare from the fort, and along with the adjacent Lal Darwaza (see below), is the structure that people driving by Purana Qila look at and comment “If the fort is on that side, then what the hell is this thing?”

Khairul Manazil coutryard

Tilework detail

Mosque interiors

Mihrab detail with signd of ongoing restoration work (hopefully)

Khairul Manazil gateway – this is what is visible from the road

Khairul Manazil exterior from Lal Darwaza

Dilli Sher Shahi

Dilli Sher Shahi is said to be the city that Sher Shah Suri built near Purana Qila (which was then called Dinpanah), and of which just two gateways remain.

These two gates are familiar landmarks for South Delhi denizens, but the first – Lal Darwaza (literally “red gate”), along with the adjacent Khairul Manazil mentioned above, is a decontextualized structure that no one really knows the identity of; and Khuni Darwaza (which translates as “bloody gate”, a reference to an incident that occurred during Delhi’s colonial history), is often mistakenly associated with the Red Fort (since the Red Fort’s own Delhi Gate lies on the same road a little north of the Khuni Darwaza).

Close up, Lal Darwaza is definitely the more impressive of the two gates

Khuni Darwaza set in the broad median of a major road

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