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Purana Qila (Old Fort)

The Old Fort, which is more famous by its Urdu name Purana Qilla, is one of the oldest surviving historical structures of the city of Delhi. In its prime, it was also called Shergarh. Along with the surrounding walls, the imposing gateways and the surviving structures inside and outside the fort, Purana Qilla provides visitors with an intriguing sight of the ancient and medieval history of India intertwined.

History of Purana Qilla

The earliest historical reference of the site of the old fort is found in The Mahabharata, where it is mentioned under the name of Indraprastha, a city founded by a legendary Pandava princess. During two excavations dated 1954 – 1955 and 1969 – 1972 led by the Archaeological Survey of India, archaeologists found relics of painted grey ware dating back to 1000 BC, and successfully proved them to be similar to relics found in other sites mentioned in The Mahabharata. This has not only helped to confirm the actual historical existence of the mythical city of Indraprastha, but also has helped historians to determine the date of the Kurukshetra war to be around 900 BC. Further excavation works that took place from 2013 to 2018 proved that this site was continuously inhabited from the pre-Mauryan era, that is, the 3rd Century BC until the Mughal period. Famous British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham accepts the existence of Indraprastha but attributes the present structures of the Old Fort to the Muslims, and rightly so. (more in the History section)

The Fort as we see it today

Today, Purana Qilla has a contrasting look inside and outside. Its walls are 18 meters high and run for about 1.5 kilometres, and its three arched gateways give a grand view to the visitors from the outside. All three gateways, the ‘Bara Darwaza ‘ facing the west, the South Gate which is aptly called the ‘Humayun Darwaza’ because it faces the Humayun Tomb, and the ‘Talaqi Darwaza ‘ also famous as the Forbidden Gate, are two-storey sandstone structures flanked by two huge semi-circular bastion towers decorated with white and coloured marble inlays and blue tiles. Ornate overhanging balconies or jharokhas and pillared pavilions or Chhatris at the top provide the examples of how the Mughal and Rajput architecture styles intertwine here.

In contrast to the grand entrance, the interior of the fort has few preserved structures, with the exception of a single domed two-storey Qila-i-Kuhra Mosque built by Sher Shah Siri in 1541. This mosque, erected as a Friday Mosque or Jami mosque, has five arched gates, a large prayer hall, a separate upper floor prayer hall for women and the earliest example of pointed arch structures in this region. The courtyard in its prime days had a shallow reservoir with a fountain. Another almost intact structure inside is the two-storey Sher Mandal observatory and a library built by Emperor Babur. The outer monuments include Kairul Manzil, a beautiful mosque built by Akbar’s foster mother Maham Anga which later became a famous Madrasa, and the Sher Shah Suri Gate or Lal Darwaza opposite the Purana Qilla complex. The fort also includes houses an interesting archaeological museum with artifacts dating from the pre-Mauryan era to the pre-British times.

Opening hours

From 7 AM to 5 PM. Ticket price: Indian Visitors: INR 20 per person. Foreign Visitors: INR 200 per person.