Old Delhi – meaning the former Walled City that sits by the banks of the River Jamuna, was once Shajahanabad, having been established by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1639, when he moved the capital of the Mughal Empire here from Agra.
The city became known as Old Delhi after New Delhi – or Lutyens’ Delhi – was built in the 1930s. Here, in the walls of the Old City, is the beating heart of Delhi itself: the Delhi of the Mughals.Jami Masjid
We begin our ramble at the Jami Masjid, or Friday Mosque of the City. This majestic structure too, was built by Emperor Shah Jahan and completed in 1656. Between then till the end of the Mughal Empire, this was the Royal Mosque of the Mughals.
Once known as Masjid-i-jahan-numa, or “Mosque with a view of the World” in Persian, the mosque is certainly the largest in Delhi and one of India’s largest mosques.
North of Jami Masjid runs Old Delhi’s main commercial thoroughfare – the historic Chandni Chowk, or “Square of Moonlight”, also a major bazaar.
Chandni Chowk runs right through the middle of Old Delhi, from the entrance to the Red Fort to the East to Fatehpuri Masjid to the West. Along the street lie many different places of worship, as well as historic havelis, or private residences.
Chandni Chowk was also the main processional thoroughfare in Old Delhi, down which the Mughal Emperors would march with their elephants and their Grand Imperial Retinue. The British would continue this tradition with King Edward VII and his consort proceeding down Chandni Chowk during the Delhi Durbar of 1903.
Today, unfortunately, many of the structures on Chandni Chowk are in urgent need of repair, though the Chowk itself, is still bursting with life and commercial activity and well worth a wander, if only to get a flavour of the city.
Red Fort (Lal Qila)
From Chandni Chowk, we enter the Red Fort through Lahore Gate. The Fort was constructed by Shah Jahan in 1639. It was the Royal Palace to his Capital City of Shahjahanabad, and remained the Royal Palace of the Mughals till the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah was ejected and exiled by the British in 1857.
The name of the Fort comes from the use of red sandstone in its fortifications. Its architecture was eclectic, incorporating Persian, Indian and European styles in the design. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is considered one of the finest examples of Mughal Architecture.
Much of the Fort was actually plundered and demolished in the aftermath of 1857. The British erected a large military garrison within the walls of the Fort, using the Fort as a military base. The buildings that remain today constitute about a third of what originally stood.
They are still beautiful and timeless reminders of Delhi’s great past.