Directly behind the Panch Mahal, a courtyard garden was reserved for the zenana (harem). The adjoining Sunahra Makan (Golden House), also known as Mariam’s House, is variously thought to have been the home of the emperor’s mother or of Akbar’s wife Mariam. It is enlivened by the faded remains of paintings on its walls (whose now vanished golden paint gave the pavilion its name), by the lines of verse penned by Abu’l Fazl, inscribed around the ceiling in blue bands, and by the quaint little carvings tucked into the brackets supporting the roof, including several elephants and a tiny carving of Rama attended by Hanuman (on the north side of the building, facing the zenana courtyard garden).
Solemnly presiding over the whole complex is the main harem, known as Jodhbai’s Palace. The residence of several of the emperor’s senior wives, this striking building is the grandest and largest in the entire city, and looks decidedly Hindu even in the eclectic context of Fatehpur Sikri, having been modelled after Rajput palaces such as those at Gwalior and Orchha.
On the north side of the palace, the Hawa Mahal (“Palace of the Winds”), a small screened tower with a delicately carved chamber, was designed to catch the evening breeze, while a raised covered walkway, lined with five large chhatris, leads from here to a (now vanished) lake.
Northwest of Jodhbai’s Palace lies a third women’s palace, known as Birbal’s Palace – though this is another misnomer, as Birbal, Akbar’s favourite courtier, was a man and would have been most unwelcome in the middle of the zenana. It’s more likely to have been the residence of two of Akbar’s senior wives.