The high red-sandstone ramparts of Agra Fort dominate a bend in the Yamuna River 2km northwest of the Taj Mahal. Akbar laid the foundations of this majestic citadel, built between 1565 and 1573 in the form of a half-moon, on the remains of earlier Rajput fortifications. The structure developed as the seat and stronghold of the Mughal Empire for successive generations: Akbar commissioned the walls and gates, his grandson, Shah Jahan, had most of the principal buildings erected, and Aurangzeb, the last great emperor, was responsible for the ramparts.

The curved sandstone bastions reach a height of over 20m and stretch for around 2.5km, punctuated by a sequence of massive gates (although only the Amar Singh Pol is currently open to visitors). The original and grandest entrance was through the western side, via the Delhi Gate and Hathi Pol or “Elephant Gate” (closed to the public), now flanked by two red-sandstone towers faced in marble, but once guarded by colossal stone elephants with riders which were destroyed by Aurangzeb in 1668. Access to this and to much of the fort is restricted, and only those parts open to the public are described here.

Entrance to the fort is through the Amar Singh Pol, actually three separate gates placed close together and at right angles to each other to disorientate any potential attackers and to deprive them of the space in which to use battering weapons against the fortifications. From here a ramp climbs gently uphill flanked by high walls (another defensive measure), through a second gate to the spacious courtyard, with tree-studded lawns, which surrounds the graceful Diwan-i-Am (“Hall of Public Audience”). Open on three sides, the pillared hall, which replaced an earlier wooden structure, was commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1628. The elegance of the setting would have been enhanced by the addition of brocade, carpets and satin canopies for audiences with the emperor.


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