The Taj Mahal invariably steals the spotlight in Agra but the city also has one of India's most significant Mughal forts. Four generations of influential Mughal emperors ruled from Agra Fort, while Agra was the capital of the flourishing Mughal Empire. The fort was among the first monuments in India to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It reflects both the strength and splendor of the Mughal dynasty, which dominated India over three centuries. This complete guide to Agra Fort explains its fascinating history and how to visit it.
Agra is approximately 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Delhi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It's part of India's famous Golden Triangle Tourist Circuit but is also popularly visited on a day trip from Delhi.
Agra Fort sits about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) west of the Taj Mahal, alongside the Yamuna River.
History and Architecture
Agra Fort was constructed in its current form by Akbar, the third Mughal emperor of India, in the 16th century. However, its existence can be traced as far back as the 11th century in historical documents. When Emperor Akbar decided to strategically establish a new capital in Agra in 1558, the fort had already gone through many occupations and wars. At the time, it was a brick fort known as Badalgarh, which originally belonged to Rajput kings.
The remains of the fort were in poor condition, and Akbar had it extensively rebuilt out of red sandstone. The work started in 1565 and was completed eight years later in 1573.
Agra Fort is considered to be the first grand fort of the Mughals. It was designed primarily as a military installation, with a colossal 70-foot high wall that stretched for more than 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) around 94 acres of land. Emperor Shah Jahan, Akbar's grandson, added fancy white marble palaces and mosques to the fort during his reign from 1628 to 1658. (A big fan of white marble, he also used it for the Taj Mahal). Shah Jahan's son, Aurangzeb, further expanded the fort by making an outer wall with a deep moat.
The fort reportedly even has a secret tunnel for the royal family to escape through, although it has been sealed by the Indian government.
It's said that Emperor Akbar was inspired by Gwalior Fort, in Madhya Pradesh, and aspects of it were incorporated into Agra Fort. Shah Jahan later modeled the Red Fort in Delhi on Agra Fort, when he stated making his new capital there in 1638.
Despite the move to Delhi, Shah Jahan continued to spend time at Agra Fort. He even died in the fort, after power-hungry Aurangzeb imprisoned him there and took over the throne.
Agra Fort declined, along with the Mughal dynasty, after Aurangzeb passed away in 1707. The Marathas wanted to free India from the Mughals, and it wasn't long before they invaded the fort and seized it. Various parties continued to fight over the fort for the next hundred or so years, until the British took control of it in 1803.
The Indian Rebellion of 1857 added another twist to the fort's turbulent narrative. More than 5,000 people (about 2,000 of whom were British) shut themselves inside the fort for three months to escape the mutiny and unrest. The rebels attacked but ultimately were defeated. What's interesting to note is that this battle at Agra Fort is portrayed in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's second Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Sign of the Four.
After India attained independence in 1947, the British handed the fort over to the Indian government. The Indian Army now uses most of it.
What to See Inside Agra Fort
Agra Fort is renowned for its magnificent architecture, incorporating Akbar's signature Islamic and Hindu styles. Apparently, he crafted hundreds of buildings with Bengali and Gujarati features inside the fort. Unfortunately, most of them no longer exist. Shah Jahan demolished some to make way for his extravagant white marble creations, while others were destroyed by the British when they set up barracks.
Jahangir Palace is Emperor Akbar's most notable surviving structure. He made it for his son, Jahangir, although the royal women resided there. Its robust and stately architecture strikingly contrasts with the more elegant and sensuous approach of Shah Jahan.
The sublime Khas Mahal, where Shah Jahan lived with his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal, shows distinctive Islamic and Persian influences. It was adorned with pure gold and precious gems, and its white marble is covered in intricate etchings and floral inlay work. There are ornamented ceilings, fountains, alcoves, and lattice windows that look out across the river to the Taj Mahal. On either side are the Golden Pavilions, where Shah Jahan's daughters slept.
To the left of the Khas Mahal is Musamman Burj, an octagonal tower where Shah Jahan is thought to have been confined by his son until his death. It also provides an outstanding view of the Taj Mahal and has exquisite inlay work.
The wooden Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), next to Musamman Burj, was remodeled by Shah Jahan. It has more white marble inlaid with gemstones shaped into floral motifs. Most of this decorative work comes from Persian art and their love of flowers.
Shah Jahan's opulent Peacock Throne, made of gold and gemstones (supposedly including the precious Kohinoor diamond) was positioned in the center of the Diwan-i-Khas. It really must've wowed his important guests! Unfortunately, the throne was lost after Persian Emperor Nadir Shah looted it from the Red Fort in Delhi in 1739.
Further mirror work can be seen on the walls of the Sheesh Mahal, although it's not possible to go inside. Other attractions include the three white marble mosques (Moti Masjid, Nagina Masjid and Mina Masjid) constructed by Shah Jahan, a marble public audience hall, courtyards, and gardens.
Those who watch Bollywood movies may also recognize backdrops from scenes in Jodha-Akbar and Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, which were partially shot at Agra Fort.
How to Visit Agra Fort
Agra Fort is open daily from sunrise until sunset. The best time to go is from November to February, when the weather is dry and not too hot.
Ideally, Agra Fort should be visited before the Taj Mahal, as it's an evocative prequel to the monument. Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal after she died in childbirth. However, many tourists understandably choose to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise and go to Agra Fort afterwards, especially if they're on a day trip from Delhi.
Agra can easily be reached by road and rail from Delhi. Here are the best train options from Delhi to Agra, with the fastest ones taking about two hours. The Yamuna Expressway, which opened in August 2012, reduced the travel time by road from Delhi to Agra to less than three hours. It starts from Noida and there's a toll of 415 rupees per car for a one way trip (665 rupees round trip). Agra also has an airport that receives flights from major cities in India.
You'll find a multitude of companies offering day tours to Agra from Delhi, and they all include the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. Alternatively, you can hire a car and driver.
If you're staying in Agra and looking for an inexpensive tour option, UP Tourism conducts full-day sightseeing bus tours to the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. The cost is 650 rupees for Indians and 3,000 rupees for foreigners. The price includes transport, monument entry tickets, and guide fees.
Although Agra Fort initially had four functional gates, two were walled up. Tourists can only enter through Amar Singh Gate on the south side. This gate was originally called Akbar Darwaza, as it was reserved for Emperor Akbar and his entourage. The fort's formal entrance was the lavish Delhi Gate, on the western side.
There's a ticket counter outside Amar Singh Gate. Tickets can also be purchased online here. Ticket prices increased in August 2018 and a discount is provided on cashless payment. Cash tickets now cost 50 rupees for Indians, or 35 rupees cashless. Foreigners pay 650 rupees cash, or 550 rupees cashless. Children under 15 years of age can enter for free.
Audio guides in various languages can be hired from a booth inside they fort's entrance. Allow a couple of hours to explore the fort, as there's quite a lot to see.
Do note that security checks are in place and certain items cannot be taken into the fort. These include headphones, cell phone chargers, electronic goods, knives, food, alcohol and tobacco products.
If you're really intrigued by the history of Agra Fort, there's a sound and light show there every evening, from sunset in Hindi and in English after that. Tickets can be purchased on the spot, and cost 200 rupees for foreigners and 70 rupees for Indians.
What Else to Do Nearby
Agra isn't a city that tourists usually want to spend a lot of time in. However, there are some other worthwhile things to do. This article lists the top places to visit in and around Agra.