A wonderful piece of Mughal pomp, the red-and-white Jama Masjid is India’s largest mosque. Its courtyard is large enough to accommodate the prostrated bodies of 25,000 worshippers. It was designed by Shah Jahan and built by a workforce of five thousand people between 1644 and 1656. Originally called Masjid-i-Jahanuma (“mosque commanding a view of the world”), this grand structure stands on Bho Jhala, one of Shahjahanabad’s two hills, and looks east to the sprawling Red Fort, and down on the seething streets of Old Delhi. Broad, red-sandstone staircases lead to gateways on the east, north and southern sides, where worshippers and visitors alike must remove their shoes (the custodian will guard them for you for a small tip).
Once inside the courtyard, your eyes will be drawn to the three bulbous marble domes crowning the main prayer hall on the west side (facing Mecca), fronted by a series of high cusped arches, and sheltering the mihrab, the central niche in the west wall indicating the direction of prayer. The pool in the centre is used for ritual ablutions. At each corner of the square yard a slender minaret crowned with a marble dome rises to the sky, and it’s worth climbing the tower south of the main sanctuary for a view over Delhi. In the northeast corner a white shrine protects a collection of Muhammad’s relics, including his sandals, a hair from his beard and his “footprint” miraculously embedded in a marble slab.