Lal Quila, Red Fort, described by Lonely Planet as “a sandstone shadow of its former self,” but a place to imagine the Mughal Empire’s splendour.
It took ten years, between 1638 and 1648, for Emperor Shah Jahan (known best for the Taj Mahal) to have the fort constructed. At their highest, the walls of the fort stand 33m above Old Delhi. That which at one time kept out invaders, now curb some of the noise, fluster and confusion of the heaving metropolis.
After entering at Lahore Gate, you walk down the Chatta Chowk (covered bazaar), which once sold jewellery and silks to the nobility. Now, merchants sell trinkets and other ‘kitsch’ knick-knacks common to tourist routes.
And as you walk through the Elephant Gate, or Hathi Pol, where visitors once dismounted their impressive steeds, one imagines the unencumbered pomp of the Mughal age - a time when nobility travelled in palanquins, and mounted lavishly embellished elephants for ceremonial processions.
Following the path, one proceeds from Elephant Gate to The Hall of Public Audiences, called the Diwan-i-Am. This is an open reception hall, lined with red sandstone columns and dominated by an enormous white marble throne. The mosaic panels behind the throne were created by Austin de Bordeaux, a Florentine jeweller, and are an element of finery perfectly suited as a backdrop for the Emperor.
Behind the Hall of Public Audiences are the complex’s most opulent structures. The private palaces, apartments and the Pearl Mosque (Moti Masjid) feature white marble, decorative inlay of carnelian and other stones and intricate lattice work. The copper that once covered the domes of the Mosque were, of course, later removed and sold by the British.
The remaining gardens are dotted with worn and aged fountains, baths and pavilions, all of which are a reminder that Red Fort is definitely a shell of its former, gloried self. But it is precisely that agedness that allows you to imagine Shah Jahan’s 17th century royal court and all its Mughal splendour.
Photos by Ben Journee