The city has never forgotten the importance of its past glory, and continues to pay tribute to the rich and diverse cultures that call Delhi their home.
Legend has it that any man or king who creates a new city in Delhi will not be able to last his rule. However, legends did not stop Delhi's conquerors, who came, saw and named new cities through the centuries. Seven principal cities were created by different rulers; today, they may be no more than villages dotted with ruins and tales of valour, while others have assimilated with the modernistic skyline.
Qila Rai Pithora
The 'first city' of Delhi dating back to 10th century, Qila Rai Pithora, also known as Rai Pithora, was created by Prithviraj Chauhan. Anang Pal, a Tomar ruler possibly created the first known regular defense work in Delhi called Lal Kot - which Prithviraj Chauhan took over and extended for his city Qila Rai Pithora. The ruins of the fort ramparts are still partly visible in the area around Qutab Minar; the city had thirteen mighty gates out of which the Barkha and Badayun gates survive.
Prithviraj Chauhan was defeated and killed in battle by Mohammed Ghori in 1192, who left his slave Qutubuddin Aibak as his viceroy in India. After capturing Delhi in 1193, and following the death of Mohammed Ghori in 1206, Qutubuddin enthroned himself as the first sultan of Delhi. Delhi thus became the capital of the Mamluk or the Slave dynasty, the first dynasty of Muslim sultans to rule over northern India. With the foundation set for the Delhi Sultanate’s rule, Delhi felt the impact of their culture and faith and continued to do so for the next six and a half centuries. Much of this was in architecture, as Qutubuddin set about to create Mehrauli, by destroying Hindu temples and building Islamic structures in their place. Earlier known as Mihirawali i.e. ‘Home of Mihir’ founded by King Mihir Bhoja, Mehrauli is referenced in 12th century Jain scriptures as ‘Yoginipura’ after the Yogmaya Temple and believed to have been built by the Pandavas. Around Qutab Minar are several ruins from the 11th and 12th century, including the mausoleum of Saint Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Shamsi Talab, a mosque and tombs of rulers. Qutubuddin's heirs reigned until 1290.
The 'Slave' dynasty of Qutubuddin was followed by the line of Khiljis. Allauddin Khilji created the third city of Delhi, Siri. The Saljuqian influences are the most remarkable feature in the buildings from this period. Derived from Urdu, water tank for ‘Hauz’ and royal for ‘Khas’, the large reservoir was a special feature in Siri. Built during the reign of the Delhi Sultanate in 13th century AD, the city area also included a mosque, tomb of Feroz Shah Tughlaq and six domed pavilions, a madrasa and an Islamic cemetery. Hauz Khas today is a complex of chic boutiques against the ruins of an ancient fort, surrounded by stretches of thick stone walls.
In the 1320s Ghiasuddin Tughlak, a Turk governor who had his stronghold in the western provinces invaded Delhi, and won it from Nasiruddin Mohammed (a Pawar Rajput who had adopted Islam and had gained kinghood by slaining the last Khilji ruler). Tughlak, known as a headstrong tyrant, created the third city of Tughlakabad. He created a fort here with high battlements and also raised a city, Jahanpanah, which largely comprised a walled enclosure between Qila Rai Pithora and Siri. This is sometimes called the fourth city of Delhi. The confrontation between Sultan and Sufi that the construction of this fort occasioned is legendary: Ghiasuddin issued a diktat that all labourers in Delhi must work on his fort, and this stopped the construction of a well that Nizamuddin Auliya had commissioned at his khanqah. The curse that the incensed Sufi uttered resonates till date: ‘Ya rahey ujjar, ya basey gujjar’ (‘either remain uninhabited or here will live gujjars’). There wereeleven rulers from the Tughlak dynasty but only the first three generations were interested in architecture- raising mosques, caravan sarais, madrasas and laying canals.
Firoze Tughlak created the fourth city of Delhi, Firozabad or Kotla Firoze Shah next to the river Yamuna. This was a large enclosure of high walls, containing palaces, pillared halls, mosques, a pigeon tower and a water tank. On the top of his palace, Firoze planted an Ashokan pillar. He also built several hunting lodges in and around Delhi, as well as mosques. After Firoze Shah's death, the Sultanate became politically unstable and in 1398, the Turk ruler of Samarkand, Taimur invaded India - creating havoc in the cities of Delhi, looting, killing and plundering. The Sayyid and Lodhi dynasties that followed the Tughlak dynasty were far more concerned with restoring stability than developing arts or architecture. Tombs erected in the honour of the rulers are the only monuments of these times.
Purana Qila, as it is known today, Shergarh was the creation of Sher Shah Suri when he wrested Delhi from Humayun in 1540. Dinpanah was Humayun’s capital and Sher Shah razed the city to the ground and started building his own capital introducing ornate elements in architecture. Humayun won back Delhi not very many years later in 1555 and he completed parts of the Purana Qila left unfinished by Sher Shah.
The walled city was founded by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and built on a heroic scale over a period from 1638 to 1649, north of the earlier settlements of Delhi. 10 gates secured and connected the city: Lahore Gate and Delhi Gate, main entrances for the Red Fort, and Kashmere Gate, Calcutta Gate, Mori Gate, Kabul Gate, Faresh Khana Gate, Ajmere Gate and the Turkman Gate that linked with highways. A system of mohallas and katras were developed according to the homogenous community that Shah Jahan ruled from his jeweled peacock throne. Though most of the havelis of Shajahanabad were destroyed in the mutiny of 1857, some still stand strong - Ghalib’s Haveli (where he spent last years of his life), Zeenat Mahal’s haveli, Begum Samru’s Kothi and Namak Haram Ki Haveli. Known today as Sitaram Bazaar, the area has provided a sanctuary for Kashmiri Pandits. Still Delhi’s bustling, beating heart, it comprises Lal Qila, Jama Masjid, Lal Jain Mandir, Chandni Chowk, Daryganj and the wholesale markets of Chawri Bazaar (hardware market, opened in 1840), Khari Baoli (dry fruits, spices and herbs, opened in 1850) and Phool Mandi (for flowers, opened in 1869). It was referred to as ‘Old City’ whence the British developed New Delhi.
The Coronation Durbar
Coronation Park: AD 1877, 1903, 1911
The Durbar was a tradition that the Mughal rulers had long adhered to, and equated to the European court or levee. All three durbars (1877, 1903 and 1911) took place on the plain outside Delhi, the seat of government before 1858, when control of India passed to Britain. The 1877 Durbar was and is for many the quintessential statement of imperial pomp and circumstance: a painstakingly choreographed and lavishly decorated celebration of Queen Victoria's assumption of the title of Empress of India. Indian princes mingled with Britain's colonial elite in a spectacle intended to impress upon the princes their carefully ordered places within the imperial pantheon while reassuring British participants of their exalted status within the empire. The 1911 durbar lacked the old-school lavishness of Lord Curzon’s 1903 hoopla when the Viceroy arrived by elephant and there were 200 others in the procession, but it gave a nod to the modern world. Motor cars were used for the first time and political concessions were granted – reversing the partition of Bengal and moving the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. The third durbar marked the coronation of King-Emperor George V, and was also the occasion when the monarch announced the building of a new capital in Delhi. New Delhi was declared capital of the British Raj by King George V on 12 December 1911. Subsequently completed in 1931, the creation of New Delhi was guided by the vision of Edward Lutyens and Herbert Baker and executed by Sobha Singh. Lutyens’ Delhi was planned on the most spacious garden city lines with the great avenues decorated with classical buildings with lush landscapes. Lutyens had initially designed the city in collaboration with Sir Herbert Baker, with all the streets crossing at right angles. However, Lord Harding told him of the dust storms that swept the landscape in these parts, insisting on roundabouts, hedges and trees to break their force, giving him the plans of Rome, Paris and Washington to study and apply to Delhi. Lutyens’ “transcendent fervour for geometric symmetry,” which is expressed through amazing sequences of triangles and hexagons, through sightlines and axes as well as the generous green spaces, lawns, watercourses, flower and fruit-bearing trees, and their integration with the parks developed around monuments absorbed all natural and historical wonders in the new city. Inaugurated by Lord Irwin, serving Viceroy of India, on 13 February 1931, New Delhi lays south-west of Shahjahanabad, deriving its name from the historical ‘Dhillika’.
Since the earliest times, Delhi has seen adventurers, conquerors, soldiers, traders, architects, artisans, culinary experts, poets, musicians, writers and fabulists making the city their home. The city of cities is also a city where migrants have given a lease of vitality and freshness to it. In the last century, political events have not only brought an influx of internal migrants from Punjab, Kashmir and Bengal, but also from neighbouring Tibet, Nepal and further from Afghanistan. The development of the city into a modern metropolis has also created a demand for specialised talents that have arrived from all over India; communities from South India and the North-East have marked their presence in the city over the decades. Delhi is truly the meeting ground for exceptional stories
Cosmo Delhi &The NCR
Delhi, is a place where the entire country, it seems, comes together to make it what it is, ‘the city improbable’, to quote the words of Khushwant Singh. Today, Delhi has evolved into a multilingual, multicultural and a thoroughly cosmopolitan city. With its own unique appeal, the city has something for everyone. Moreover, you will feel every bit the explorer - whether you’re a foodie, an art buff, curious about history and the many ruins that dot the city, or a mall rat! With increasing development, infrastructure and population, Delhi has expanded beyond its borders and the capital city region now includes the adjoining satellite cities of Faridabad, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Noida to make up the NCR.