Fatehpur Sikri is the famous deserted city, about twenty-three miles from Agra, built by Akbar. It was formerly merely a village, called Sikri, celebrated as the abode of Sheikh Salim Chishti, a Muhammadan pir, or saint. In 1564, Akbar, returning from a campaign, halted near the cave in which the saint lived. The twin children of his Rajput wife, Mariam Zamani, had recently died, and he was anxious for an heir. He consulted the holy man, who advised him to come and live at Sikri. The Emperor did so, and nine months afterwards Mariam, who was taken to Chishti’s cell for her confinement, gave birth to a son, afterwards the Emperor Jahangir. He was called Sultan Salim in honour of the saint. Jahangir, who describes all these circumstances in his memoirs, adds: “My revered father, regarding the village of Sikri, my birthplace, as fortunate to himself, made it his capital, and in the course of fourteen or fifteen years the hills and deserts, which abounded in beasts of prey, became converted into a magnificent city, comprising numerous gardens, elegant edifices and pavilions, and other places of great attraction and beauty. After the conquest of Gujarat, the village was named Fatehpur (the town of victory).”
The glory of Fatehpur Sikri was short-lived. Akbar held his court there for seventeen years, and then removed it to Agra; some say on account of the badness of the water supply, others that the saint, disturbed in his devotions by the bustle and gaieties of the great city, declared that either he or Akbar must go. “Then,” replied the Emperor, “let it be your servant, I pray.” The entire city was given up to the beasts of the surrounding jungle. Finch, who visited it in the early part of the next reign, describes it: “Ruin all; lying like a waste desert, and very dangerous to pass through in the night.” This, however, was an exaggeration, for the principal buildings are still in a good state of preservation, probably owing to the remoteness of the place from any great highway or large town.
The city, which was some six miles in circuit, was surrounded on three sides by high battlemented walls, which had nine gateways. The fourth side was formed by a great artificial lake, now dry. The principal buildings are on the summit of the high ridge which runs throughout the length of the city.
THE AGRA GATE.—The visitor usually enters by the Agra Gate, concerning which an amusing story is told. One night Akbar, attended by some of his ministers, was inspecting the ramparts near this gate, when he observed a highway robbery being committed close by the walls. Turning severely to those responsible for the peace of the city, he demanded why such an outrage was permitted in the very presence of the Emperor. “It is always darkest directly under the shadow of the lamp,” was the courtly reply.
THE NAUBAT KHANA.—Inside the gate the road passes, by the right, a large quadrangle surrounded by a ruined cloister, which was probably used for barracks. Beyond this the road was formerly lined on both sides by the houses of the bazar. It next passes through the inner gateway, called the Naubat Khana, or Music House, where, as in all Mogul fortresses, the court musicians played to announce the Emperor’s arrival or departure, and various state ceremonials.