Red Fort Delhi (Lal Qila)

Shah Jahan selected the site of the Red Fort in his new city of Shahjahanabad in 1638; the foundation stone was laid the following year, and the fortress/palace ready by 1648 for the court to begin its transfer from Agra. The Red Fort then nestled against the west bank of the River Yamuna, and the royal pavilions were set in a straight line, north to south, to take advantage of the river breezes. Two gateways faced the main arteries of the new city, Chandni Chowk and Faiz Bazaar (now Netaji Subhash Marg).

The massive Lal Qila (Red Fort) today stands forlornly, a sandstone carcass. When emperor Shah Jahan paraded out of the Red Fort atop an elephant into the streets of Old Delhi, though, he and the fort he built were a magnificent display of pomp and power. Shah Jahan started building in 1638 and completed the fort in 1648, The moat, which has been bone-dry since 1857, was originally crossed on creaky wooden drawbridges, but these were replaced with stone bridges in 1811.

The Red Fort's main gate, Lahori Gate, is a potent symbol of modern India. During the fight for Independence from British rule, there was a nationalist aspiration to see the Indian flag flying over the gate - that dream became reality. Since independence many landmark political speeches have taken place at the fort, and every year on Independence Day (15 August) it hosts the prime minister's address to the nation.

When Aurangzeb deposed his ailing father, in 1658, Shah Jahan had not completed transferring his seat of power from Agra and Aurangzeb became the first and last great Mughal to rule entirely from Delhi's Red Fort. Precious material was looted from the Red Fort's pavilions by its various eighteenth century invaders. It was the British, however, who must accept most blame for the altered layout of the Red Fort, in particular the demolition of the arcades surrounding the two main courtyards, the western section of the women's quarters, and the formal gardens to the north. This iconoclasm took place following the Indian Mutiny and was explained away as being essential for defence purposes. However, retribution seems to have been an equally important factor.

The red sandstone castellated wall, which inspired the name of the fort, extends for 1.5 miles (2.5 km) and reaches a height of 60ft (18m). It is said that half the construction cost of the entire project was incurred by this wall.

Tickets are purchased at the kiosk facing the Lahore Gate, from where the Red Fort is entered. The Barbican, wrongly inscribed Lahore Gate, through which visitors pass, was erected by Aurangzeb in 1666 to strengthen the defences. Its heavy appearance certainly spoils the architecture, concealing, as it does, the Lahore Gate itself. From the Barbican, the road bends sharply towards the gate, thus depriving any aggressor of a direct approach. It was on the Lahore Gate that the flag of independent India was first hoisted, in 1947. A tradition has been established that the Prime Minister addresses the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort here on Independence Day (15 August).

Ahead lies a vaulted arcade of shops, Chatta Chowk, originally known as the Meena Bazaar, and where courtiers made their purchases. Most shops now sell souvenirs or refreshments to tourists. The shops end at the west side of the outer courtyard, which is now much altered from its original appearance when arcades completely enclosed the area. A path from the courtyard led southward to the fort's Delhi Gate (not to be confused with the Delhi Gate in the city wall which lies further south).

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