Delhi and Agra

Red Fort in Delhi
Red Fort in Delhi

Delhi, now the capital of India, has been the political center of Indian civilization for over a thousand years. The settlement known as Indraprastha, which was mentioned in the Indian epic the Mahabharata, was located at modern-day Purana Qila, near Delhi.

It became the capital of Muslim dynasties of Turkish, Afghan, and slave origins that invaded and ruled northern India beginning in the 12th century. Because of its strategic importance at the confluence of the Ganges and Jumna Rivers, it was the battleground of successive conquering armies.

The most ferocious invader was Timurlane (Tamerlane), who laid waste to city and killed or enslaved most of its inhabitants in 1398. Two regional Muslim dynasties rebuilt Delhi after Timurlane left India in 1399, the second being the Lodi dynasty, which was destroyed by Babur at the Battles of Panipat in 1526. Babur made Delhi and Agra his capitals.


Although Babur only reigned from 1526 until 1530, his reign was important because of the impact it had on India in succeeding centuries. He was descended from Timur on his father’s side, and Genghis Khan on his mother’s. He ran much of his administration from Delhi and began to rebuild it.

Babur was buried in Afghanistan but his son Humayun was buried in Delhi. His tomb is an early example of Mughal (or Moghul) architecture, which reached its peak under Humayun’s great-grandson Shah Jahan.

Taj Mahal in Agra
Taj Mahal in Agra
In 1556, Babur’s grandson, Akbar, became emperor and he decided to move the capital from Delhi to Agra, where Babur had begun building palaces and gardens befitting a capital. From 1571 until 1585, Akbar mainly ruled in Fatehpur Sikri. Foreign visitors, including ambassadors from European countries, commented on the opulence of Akbar’s court and the beauty of Agra.

Akbar’s successor Jahangir (ruled 1605–27) held court at Agra, where he received Sir Thomas Roe, the ambassador of James I of England, but for most of his reign Jahangir resided in Lahore in modern-day Pakistan, or in Kabul in Afghanistan. Only a few important buildings were added to Agra during Jahangir’s reign.

Jahangir’s son Shah Jahan was a great builder who greatly added to both Agra and Delhi. His greatest legacy is the Taj Mahal, a great mausoleum he built for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is one of the wonders of the world.

Shah Jahan also built and improved many monuments in Delhi that include large city walls with grand gates, most notably the Ajmeri Gate, the Delhi Gate, the Kashmiri Gate, and the Turkman Gate. Shah Jahan in 1648 began work on the Red Fort in Delhi to improve the city’s defenses.

In 1739, Nadir Shah, emperor of Persia, captured and looted Delhi, taking the fabulous jewel-encrusted Peacock Throne back with him to Persia. In 1760, the Marathas attacked and looted Delhi again. In 1761, the Jats captured Agra and sacked the city, including the Taj Mahal. Nine years later it was captured by the Marathas, who held it until 1803, when both cities were taken by the British.

Ajmeri Gate in Delhi
Ajmeri Gate in Delhi