At the southwestern corner of the palace complex, with the village of Fatehpur Sikri nestling at its base, stands the Jama Masjid or Dargah Mosque, one of the finest in the whole of India. Unfortunately, the mosque is rife with self-appointed “guides” who make it all but impossible to enjoy the place in peace. The mosque was apparently completed in 1571, before work on the palace commenced, showing the religious significance which Akbar accorded the entire site. This was due to its connections with the Sufi saint Sheikh Salim Chishti, who is buried here, and who played a crucial role in the founding of Fatehpur Sikri by prophesying the birth of a son to the emperor: when one of Akbar’s wives Rani Jodhabai, a Hindu Rajput princess from Amber, became pregnant she was sent here until the birth of her son Salim, who later became the emperor Jahangir. Fatehpur Sikri was constructed in the saint’s honour.
The neck-cricking Buland Darwaza (Great Gate), a spectacular entrance scaled by an impressive flight of steps, was added around 1576 to commemorate Akbar’s military campaign in Gujarat. Flanked by domed kiosks, the archway of the simple sandstone memorial is inscribed with a message from the Koran: “Said Jesus Son of Mary (peace be on him): The world is but a bridge – pass over without building houses on it. He who hopes for an hour hopes for eternity; the world is an hour – spend it in prayer for the rest is unseen.” The numerous horseshoes nailed to the doors here date from the beginning of the twentieth century – an odd instance of British folk superstition in this very Islamic place.
The gate leads into a vast cloistered courtyard, far larger than any previous mosque in India. The prayer hall, on the west side, is the focus of the mosque, punctuated by an enormous gateway. More eye-catching is the exquisite Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti, directly ahead as you enter the courtyard. Much of this was originally crafted in red sandstone and only later faced in marble: the beautiful lattice screens – another design feature probably imported from Gujarat, though it would later become a staple of Mughal architecture – are unusually intricate, with striking serpentine exterior brackets supporting the eaves.