Fatehpur Sikri Architecture, Design and Construction
Fatehpur Sikri, known for its architecture and planning, is located in Northern India near Agra, was built by Akbar, the third Mughal emperor, in 1571 , as his new capital. The major part of the complex was built/constructed in a short span of four to ten years, using local building skills and materials.
Since the area is close to the western desert region, the climate is hot-dry with relatively little rainfall.
Planning and Architecture Features
The Fatehpur Sikri complex stands on a ridge and the city is enclosed by an embattlement on three sides and on the fourth by a vast artificial lake which was the main source of water supply to the city.
The ridge is somewhat in the center of this walled area and runs from South-West to North-East. All the major buildings of the complex are located on top of this ridge , utilizing a comparatively flat terrain.
At the periphery, where the slopes are difficult, lower structures are built as props to enable easy movement on top. The lower structures are mostly service facilities approachable from the lower roads and interconnected with upper levels by steps.
An elaborate water supply system existed, activating the linear channels and tanks at the upper courtyard level. The seven entrance gates punctured in the city wall lead to major settlements in the regions of which the Agra gate is the most important (since Akbar had already built his fort there).
This road lies in the same direction as the ridge and gradually rises to provide access to the palace complex on top. The orientation of the mosque and the palace complex is in the direction of Mecca whereas the other civic buildings observe the landform as a major determinant.
At one time, the town was spread on all sides of the ridge and the palace precinct had an excellent view of the area around. Minor level changes exist between courtyards which are negotiated by steps and are cleverly exploited for gravitational flow of water.
The Royal Complex which occupies the crown of a linear ridge at Fatehpur Sikri is unique for its open spaces and courtyards. Distinctly different from other Islamic complexes which are usually axial in plan with buildings placed in gardens, the Sikri complex is a sequential organisation of enclosed open spaces of different sizes and varying levels of privacy.
Although there is no definite hierarchy, the sequence of well-modulated and interlinked spaces is highly developed. One space leads to another, always providing a different experience in scale and volume.
Red sandstone is not only used for the buildings, but also as floor paving in almost all the open spaces, Within the complex, there are no defined paths and most of the movement is from space to space.
Spaces and functions are carefully articulated and closely interlinked. The topography has moderated the rigid geometry by creating levels within the Royal Complex. The main part of the complex, consisting of the royal residences, pavilions, halls and meeting areas, occupies the central and comparatively flat part of the ridge.
Here the spaces are structured with the help of rectilinear geometry, oriented to the cardinal directions. Jami Masjid, with its main prayer wall facing westwards towards Mecca, is in the same geometric alignment as the Royal Complex.
Changes of levels are subtle. Buildings with other functions located on the periphery of this complex do not adhere to the same geometric alignment as the main complex. Responding to the local site needs, these buildings relate to the topography which is rather steep on the periphery. Here, the orientation of buildings is dictated more by the contours of the site than by anything else.
The caravanserai, Hakim House and the mint demonstrate this adaptation to topography. However, in their own plans, these buildings continue to follow the same rectilinear geometry. This has resulted in a very well-articulated plan of the total complex without the disadvantage of rigidity.
The general attitude of the builders to the organisation of spaces can be perceived in the three broad categories which can be identified. Firstly, there are the larger enclosed public and semi-public spaces which, at times, have buildings juxtaposed within the enclosed space.
The courtyard within Jami Masjid, with the tombs of Sheikh Salim Chishti and Islam Khan, is one such space. It is self-contained and its linkages with other spaces are through the two gateways, the Shahi Darwaza and the Buland Datwaza.
The diwan-e-iam, a hall of public audience, is also an enclosed space with linkages to the Agra Gate on one side and the the royal residential area on the other. However, the most interesting space of all is the Pachisi Court which has numerous buildings structured within the main space.
There are also smaller spaces generated around these buildings. All major functions are linked with the main space.
The second category of spaces are those which arc external to buildings, yet give a sense of being enclosed owing to the manner in which other structures are disposed around them.
These spaces are focal points for some important functions in each. The spaces around Birbal House, Miriam House, and the diwan-i-khas demonstrate this approach. While the focus is on an individual building in a particular space, the surrounding structures may not necessarily participate in the activities within that space, as they may not open into it.
Thirdly, there are internal open spaces with a higher degree of privacy attached to them. The courtyards within Jodha Bai’s Palace and the houses of Abul Fazi and Faizi, Samosa Mahal and the caravanserai are some such spaces.
Most of these examples have a well-controlled entry which also provides the linkage with other spaces.
One very interesting aspect of spatial sequences at Fatehpur Sikri is transition. At times there are very definite and sharp transitions from one space to another. There are also examples of soft and subtle changes. The indirect Z-shaped entry to the courtyard of Jodha Bai’s Palace is highly controlled, whereas the changes of space around the Pachisi Court are soft, so that at times they remain unperceived.
Pavilions, porches and verandahs around some of the structures add another dimension to the experience of transition. At places, the transition is accentuated by a change of level.
Since the methods of construction were familiar to the builders, specialized items could be produced outside and brought in for assembly. The super-structure is a combination of the traditional post-and-lintel system and arches and ribbed vaults of Buddhist origin.
High domes, placed in response to the scale of courts and structures externally, were often scaled down in the interior by double domes decorated in plaster or paintings.
A wide range of roof types has been employed at Fatehpur Sikri, from curved vaulted roofs with stone ribs to sloped angular vaults with an internally visible stone ridge beam, flat-laid stone slabs, and stone domes.
The roof is finished smooth in some cases and finished with carved fluting in others. The carved fluting is sometimes covered with blue glazed tiles as in Jodha Bai’s Palace. The roofs of the lower structures are often used as terraces from the upper levels, and the parapets are finished with carved screens.
The varying skyline , created by a change of height and form, is an important design element in the Fatehpur Sikri complex. Most staircases leading to the terraces are located in the corners of structures with high risers and relatively small treads.
These culminate in a cover provided by a chhatri which is an elegant domical structure with slender columns designed like an open pavilion.
The staircases are placed symmetrically in the structure (as in the diwan-i-khas) and consequently the chhatris also find place in the corners of the roof. Another important design element is the sun shade or the chhajja.
The chhajja is a sloped stone slab, cantilevered or bracket-supported above the openings, which provides shade and a floating effect to the whole structure since the lower portions are openings or delicate screens and the portions above the chhajjas are usually solid or horizontally expressed.
Elaborate brackets are used in Fatehpur Sikri as an element of construction and aesthetics. Ornately-carved stone brackets find their full expression in the central pillar of the diwan-i-khas.
Brackets which are used to support projecting balconies, placed very close to each other, are an integral part of the facade treatment, relieving the monotony of stone facades.
Apart from these structural elements, the use of niches and screens is also important in the complex. The use of internal wall surfaces, with niches as an active functional and decorative element, can be seen in all residential structures in the complex.
Most openings other than doors were screened with intricately-carved stone work using geometric and floral patterns. Apart from carvings, stone-inlay work is extensively used in Fatehpur Sikri.
Stones are cut and placed to form geometric patterns or floral designs. For the secular character of its architecture and the amazing range of building techniques, Fatehpur Sikti is without parallel even in the rich and varied building tradition of India.The traditions of these crafts existed in the region and probably many different craft groups worked simultaneously on the buildings. The Buland Darwaza which was built at a later stage to commemorate Akbar’s victory over the Deccan contains fine examples of inlay work.