The citadel, referred to as Qila on the map, stands out prominently with its red enclosing walls clearly depicted. This is what we know today as Red Fort, though its formal name was Qila-e-Moalla, “the exalted fortress”. This was in a way the focal point of the new city of Shahjahanabad. Construction had first begun here with the laying of the foundation stones on May 12, 1639, and no other project in the city was undertaken, neither the city wall, nor the Jama Masjid, until this palace complex had been inaugurated, on April 18, 1648.

The Qila was not really a fortification, but rather a palace complex, where the emperor, his extended family and household lived. This was also the administrative hub of the empire, though the hub moved with the emperor when he travelled out, which in the time of Shahjahan and his successor Aurangzeb, he frequently did, to keep control over his vast empire.

At the time this map was made, the position of the emperor was very different. The incumbent on the throne was Bahadur Shah “Zafar”, the poet king, who lamented the fall of his dynasty, and his status as a pensioner of the East India Company, an emperor in less than name. His empire had in effect shrunk to the area within the walls of the fort.

Here alone, where he lived with his huge extended family – generations of aunts, uncles, and distant cousins, beside his immediate family, his writ ran rather than that of the Company. The Qila was not in fact a thana at all, for it was not under the city administration’s jurisdiction. The emperor had jurisdiction over the inhabitants of the fort, all through the period of the East India Company’s control over Delhi, ie from 1803 to 1857. Yet, the fort forms an important part of the map. It is in many ways the focal point of the city. It occupies a prime position overlooking the bank of the river, and is located at the intersection of the most important streets of the city – the two grand ceremonial avenues.

For the city’s administrators, the map of the fort’s interior was of no less importance than any thana, for the British rulers kept a close eye on the activities inside the palace. In any event, it is lucky for us that the plan of the Qila was drawn in detail, for it shows us many features that have since disappeared altogether. The majority of the fort’s structures were demolished after the Revolt of 1857, and were in some cases replaced by colonial buildings.

If we look at the fort on the map, in terms of its broad outlines, some features stand out. There is a certain symmetry in the exterior dimensions. The shape of the fort is roughly that of a “Baghdad octagon”, an octagon with short sides alternating with long sides. In the interior of the fort, the overall impression one receives is of several large enclosed areas.

Another feature that strikes the eye is the large number of gardens, all coloured in green, and in many cases, labelled. The symmetry within the fort is most pronounced in the two major intersecting axes.

The plan of the Red Fort, drawn in the 18th Century. Image courtesy: Roli Books.

One of these leads eastwards from the Lahori Darwaza, the western gate of the fort, and consists of a series of important passages, courtyards and buildings. The other axis leads north from the Dehli Darwaza, the southern gate of the fort, and continues to the northernmost point of the fort, to a gate labelled Darwaza Salimgarh. This leads to Salimgarh, a fortress built in the mid-16th century by Islam Shah Sur. The northern part of the Qila’s wall had been designed to align with this pre-existing structure.

In the map we can easily see that this northern part of the fort wall departs from the symmetry of the other sides. These two axes are aligned to the major streets of the city, and were, moreover, the major thoroughfares of the palace complex. The market just inside the Lahori Darwaza, which we know as Chhatta Bazaar, is not labelled as such, but the shop fronts have been painted, and the open octagonal court located midway, Chhatta Chowk, is marked.

The street leading from the Dehli Darwaza also contained shops, and this is clear from the name – Bazaar-eDehli Darwaza. The map shows clearly that this street had a channel of water running down its middle. These two main axes effectively divide the interior of the fort into four unequally sized quadrants. A large portion of the south-east quadrant is shown as densely built up. This was the Naumohalla, literally, “the new locality”. This extensive area was occupied by the extended royal family, many of them descendants of previous emperors, their families and dependants. Their numbers had been growing over the years, and by the mid-19th century they numbered a few thousand; so this locality had become quite crowded.

One of the places marked in Naumohalla is Meena Bazaar, where a private market was held periodically in the fort for the benefit of its inhabitants, particularly for the ladies who did not appear in public places to shop. The area east of Naumohalla appears to be less densely constructed, with buildings overlooking the Yamuna on one side, and fronted on the other side by formal gardens.

One of these more exclusive residences is marked Khurd Rang Mahal, the palace of the chief ladies of the royal family, such as the main consorts of the emperors. In the southern corner, near the bastion marked Asad Burj – “lion bastion”, is a hammam, a bath house. A projecting fortification in this corner of the fort wall contains one of the gates to the river – Khizri Darwaza. All the buildings in this quadrant of the fort, except the Khurd Rang Mahal (which is now known as Mumtaz Mahal), were destroyed in the aftermath of the Revolt.

The south-west quadrant is smaller, and appears to be less formally laid out than the south-east quadrant. It contains two gardens and several buildings. One space that is marked is the Nazarat, the office of the Nazir, the chief eunuch in charge of the royal household. The eunuchs often held very important positions within the Mughal imperial set up. The Jaipur map, interestingly, identifies three large spaces here with the Nazirs. Our map labels a large courtyard as Baradari, or “pavillion” without giving any further information. However, inside it is a small arcade which the Jaipur map also shows, and labels as “Masnad Naziron ki”, the “seat of the Nazirs”; evidently this was where the Nazir held court.

Excerpted with permission from Shahjahanabad: Mapping a Mughal City, Swapna Liddle, visuals curated by Pramod Kapoor and Sneha Pamneja, Roli Books.