AGRA WAS THE SEAT of the imperial AGRA Mughalcourt during the 16th and 17th centuries, before the capital was shifted to Delhi. The city, strategically located on the banks of the Yamaha and along the Grand Trunk Road, flourished under the patronage of the emperors Akbar, Bahangir and Shah Bahan, attracting artisans from Persia and Central Asia, and also from other parts of India, who built luxurious forts, palaces, gardens and mausoleums. Of these, the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and Akbar’s abandoned capital of Fatehpur Sikri have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. With the decline of the Mughals, Agra was captured by the Bats, the Marathas, and finally by the British, early in the 19th century.
A magnificently proportioned building in the heart of the historic town, the “Friday Mosque” was sponsored by Shah Jahan’s favourite daughter, Jahanara Begum, who also commissioned a number of other buildings and gardens, including the canal that once ran down Chandni Chowk in Delhi. Built in 1648, the mosque’s sandstone and marble domes with their distinctive zigzag chevron pattern dominate this section of the town. The eastern courtyard wing was demolished by the British in 1857 . Of interest are the tank with its shahi chirag (royal stove) for heating water within the courtyard, and the separate prayer chamber for ladies. The area around Jami Masjid was once a vibrant meeting place, famous for its kebab houses and lively bazaars. A stroll or rickshaw ride through the narrow alleys can be a rewarding experience, offering glimpses of an older and very different way of life, reminiscent of Mughal Agra. This is also the city’s crafts and trade centre where a vast array of products such as jewellery, zari embroidery, inlaid marble objects, dhurries, dried fruit, sweets, shoes and kites are available. Some of the main bazaars are Johri Bazaar, Kinari Bazaar, Kaserat Bazaar and Kashmiri Bazaar. Quieter lanes such as Panni Gali have many fine buildings, with imposing gateways leading into secluded courtyards where the thriving workshops of master craftsmen still exist.
ST JOHN’S COLLEGE
The unusual architecture of St John’s College has been described as “an astounding mixture of the antiquarian, the scholarly and the symbolic”. It consists of a group of red sandstone buildings, including a hall and library, arranged around a quadrangle, all designed in a quasi-Fatehpur Sikri style by Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob who perfected the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. Started by the Church Missionary Society, the college was inaugurated in 1914 by the viceroy, Lord Hardinge, and it continues to be one of Agra’s most prestigious institutions.
ROMAN CATHOLIC CEMETERY
Towards the north of the town is the Roman Catholic Cemetery, the oldest European graveyard in North India, established in the 17th century by an Armenian merchant, Khoja Mortenepus.
A number of Islamic-style gravestones, with insciiptions in Armenian, survive today, and include those of the cannon expert, Shah Nazar Khan, and Khoja Mortenepus himself. The cemetery also contains tombs of European missionaries, traders and adventurers such as the 18thcentury French freebooter, Walter Reinhardt. The largest tomb is that of John Messing, a British commander in the army of the Scindias, the rulers of Gwalior . I Hessing’s red sandstone tomb, built after his death in 1803, is modelled on the lines of the Taj Mahal. One of the oldest tombs belongs to the English merchant, John Mildenhall (1614), envoy of Elizabeth I, who arrived at the Mughals court in 1603 seeking permission to trade. Other interesting graves include those of the Venetian doctor, Bernardino Maffi, and Jeronimo Veroneo (once wrongly regarded by some as the architect of the Taj). Near the chapel, an obelisk marks the grave of the four children of General Perron, French commander of the Scindias forces. Another Frenchman, Jean Philippe Bourbon, a kinsman of Henry IV of France, is also buried here.
FORT RAILWAY STATION
This memorable Raj building was constructed in 1891 as a stopping-off point for colonial tourists visiting Agra’s monuments. The octagonal bazaar chowk that originally connected the Delhi Gate and Agra Fort to the old city and the Jai Masjid was demolisher and this station, with its French ch8teau-style slate-roofed platforms, was built in its place. It is still in use today. Agra’s two other railway stations are loca, ted in the cantonment and at raja ki mandi.
Situated on the west bank of the Yamuna, Agra Fort was built by Emperor Akhar between 1565 and 1573. Its imposing red sandstone ramparts form a crescent along the river front, and encompass an enormous complex of courtly buildings, ranging in style from the early eclecticism of Akbar to the sublime elegance of Shah Japan. The barracks to the north are 19th-century British additions. A deep moat, once filled with water from the Yamuna, surrounds the fort.
The impressive Aar Singh Gate, to the south, leads into the fort. To its right is the so-called Jahangiri Mahal,the only major palace in the fort that dates back to Akhar’s reign. This complex arrangement of halls, courtyards and galleries, with dungeons underneath, was the zenana or main harem. In front of the Jahangiri Mahal is a large marble pool which, according to legend, used to be filled in Nur Jahan’s time with thousands of rose petals so that the empress could bathe in its scented waters.
Along the river front are the Khans Mahal, an elegant marble hall with a vividly painted ceiling, characteristic of Shah Jahan’s style of architecture, and two golden pavilions with bangaldar roofs (curved roofs derived from Bengali huts). These pavilions were once associated with the princesses Jahanara and linshanara and have narrow niches which could have been used to conceal jewels. Facing them is Anguri Bagh (“Grape Garden”) with its lilypools and candle-niches. The Sheesh Mahal and royal baths are to the northeast, near the gloriously inlaid Musaanman Burj, a double-storeyed octagonal tower with clear views of the Taj. This was where Shah Jahan, Imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb, spent the last years of his life. Mina Mashed (“Gem Mosque”), probably the smallest in the world and the emperor’s private mosque, is nearby.
Next to Musarnman Burl is the Dlwan-i-Khas, a lavishly decorated open hall with fine pier dura work on its columns, where the emperor would meet his court. Two thrones, in white marble and black slate, were placed on the terrace so that the emperor could watch the elephant lights below. Opposite is the Machchhi Bhavan (“Fish House”), once a magnificent water palace. To its west is the Diwan-i-Aam, an arcaded hall within a courtyard. Its throne-alcove of inlaid marble provided a sumptuous setting a the fabled Peacock Throne. To the northwest is the Nagina Mashed (“Jewel Mosque”) built by Shah Jahan or his harem, and the Moti Mashed (“Pearl Mosque”).
The pleasant, tree-shaded army cantonment area, with its own railway station and orderly avenues has many interesting public buildings, churches, cemeteries and bungalows in a medley of styles dating from colonial times. St George’s Church a plastered, ochrecoloured building was designed by Colonel BIT Boileau, architect of Shimla’s Christ Church . Havelock Memorial Church, constructed in 1873 in a “trim Classical style”, commemorates one of the British generals of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Other buildings in this area include Queen Mary’s Library, the Central Post Office and the Circuit House, which used to accommodate Raj officials.
Cantonment Enclosed by Mahatma Gandhi Rd, Grand Parade Rd & Mall Rd. The pleasant, tree-shaded army cantonment area, with its own railway station and orderly avenues has many interesting public buildings, churches, cemeteries and bungalows in a medley of styles dating from colonial times. St George’s Church (1826), a plastered, ochrecoloured building was designed by Colonel BIT Boileau, architect of Shimla’s Christ Church (see p110). Havelock Memorial Church, constructed in 1873 in a “trim Classical style”, commemorates one of the British generals of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Other buildings in this area include Queen Mary’s Library, the Central Post Office and the Circuit House, which used to accommodate Raj officials.
FIROZ KHAN KHWAJASARA ‘S TOMB
A signpost on the Gwalior Road indicates the turning to this unusual 17th-century octagonal structure, standing on the edge of a lake. This marks the spot where Firoz Khan Khwajasara, a naturalborn eunuch and the custodian of Shah Jahan’s palace harem, is buried. The red sandstone edifice stands on a high plinth and has a gateway attached to the main building. Steps lead to the upper storey where a central pavilion containing the grave is located. Highly stylized stone carvings embellish the surface. Interestingly, unlike other buildings of the period, there is an absence of calligraphic inscriptions, If the tomb is closed, the watchman from the village will open the gate.