SPRAWLING ACROSS a boulder-strewn plateau, Golconda (“Shepherd’s Hill”) Fort was the citadel of the Quth Shahi dynasty, which ruled the Hyderabad region from 1507 to 1687. The earlier 12th-century mud fort that stood here was transformed between 1518 and 1580 into a splendid fortified city of grand palaces, mosques and gardens by successive Quth Shahi rulers. Golconda Fort was also famous for its great hoard of diamonds, mined nearby, which included the celebrated Kohinoor diamond, now part of the British Crown jewels. The colossal ruins of Golconda cover an area of 40 sq km (15 sq miles).
This great fortress is protected by three formidable lines of defence. The first, an outer fortification made of enormous blocks of granite, encircles the citadel and its entire township. The middle wall surrounds the base of the hill, while the innermost one follows the contours of the highest ridge. Visitors enter through the Fateh Darwaza (“Victory Gate”), on the east side, which has a Hindu deity carved above its arch. Huge iron spikes are studded into the gate to prevent it from being stormed by elephant cavalries From the Fateh Darwaza, the road curves past the Archer . logical Museum (the old Treasury), and through the bazaar, once a famous centre . for cutting and polishing diamonds. Beyond are the two massive arches of the Habshl Kaman Gate, with rooms on top. These used to house a drummers’ gallery and the sultans’ Abyssinian guards. This gate leads to the middle fortification wall.
To its north is the austere, domed Jami Masjid, built in 1518 by Sultan Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of the dynasty; he was murdered here while at prayer by his son Jamshed in 1543. Beyond is the ceremonial arch, the Bala Hisar Gate, decorated with various Hindu motifs, including yalis (fantastic leonine beasts). This is the entrance to the inner citadel, known as the Bata Hisar Complex, where the royal palaces, assembly balls, workshops and an armoury are located. North of the Bala Hisar is a walled enclosure, begun in 1652, and planned as an extension to the inner fort. Within it is Hathion lca Jhaad (“Elephant Tree”), an extraordinary 700-year-old Baobab tree (Adansonia digitata), said to have been brought to Golconda by the sultans’ Abyssinian guards.
The large-domed Grand Portico behind the Bala Hisar Gate is a good place to test the remarkable acoustics that were an important feature of the fort’s defences. A soft handclap here can be heard in the king’s chambers at the summit of the hill.
West of the Grand Portico are the ruins of the Quth Shahi palaces. The most impressive of these is the Rani Mahal, a vaulted hall on a raised terrace, decorated with lovely floral arabesques. Hollows in these carvings were once inlaid with Golconda’s famous diamonds . and other precious I stones. To the west of the Rani Mahal, a steep flight of 200 steps winds past royal baths, granaries, treasuries, water tanks and the remains of gardens, to the summit of the hill. Traces of the elaborate water I supply system which carried water to the top of the citadel are visible along the route. Just below the summit is a graceful mosque built by Sultan Ibrahim Quth Shah, the third sultan, and the ancient Hindu Mahalcali Temple, built into a cave.
At the summit of the hill is the three-storeyed Durbar Hall (“Throne Room”), with a rooftop pavilion. From here there are wonderful views of the entire fort and its surroundings, which include two pretty structures on hillocks – Taramati’s Pavilion and Premamati’s Mosque. These are named after the two dancers who were royal favourites, and said to be so lightfooted that they could dance all the way from the pavilion to the Bala Hissr on a tightrope. Standing outside the fort, east of the Fateh Darwaza, is the Nau Mahal (“Nine Falaces “), where the Nizams of Hyderabad held court whenever they came to Golconda.
QUTB SHAHI TOMBS
1 km (0.6 miles) NW of Golconda Fort This royal necropolis, where seven of the nine Qutb Shahi rulers are buried, is laid out in gardens with water channels, pools and tree-lined pathways. The tombs, built by each king in his lifetime, display a distinct and eclectic architectural style – they have large onion domes, Persian arches, Turkish columns and Hindu brackets and motifs. Built of grey granite and plaster, each tomb’s dome is set on a petalled base, with a richly ornamented gallery and small minarets surrounding it. The Tomb of Muhammad Quid Qutb Shah, the founder of the city of Hyderabad, is the most impressive. It is surrounded by a spacious terrace, where poetry and music festivals and Hyderabadi food festivals are occasionally held. Traces of brilliant turquoise and green enamelled tiles, which once covered the facades of all the tombs, still remain. Other remarkable monuments are the Tomb of Queen Hayat Balcsh Begum, the wife of Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, and the mosque behind it (both mid-17th century), decorated with exquisite floral designs and calligraphy. At the centre of the complex is the simple but beautifully proportioned Royal Mortuary Bath. The bodies of the deceased kings were ritually bathed before burial on the inlaid, 12-sided platform; the surrounding 12 water tanks symbolize the 12 Shia Imams.