Firozabad – Fifth City of Delhi

Delhi history teaches us a lot. It is about getting knocked down, getting back up, dusting off yourself and being ready for the next battle. Delhi is about rising like a phoenix from the ashes. William Dalrymple, author of ‘City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi’, writes in the prologue – “Just as the Hindus believe that a body [sic] will be reincarnated over and over again until it becomes perfect, so it seemed Delhi was destined to appear in a new incarnation century after century”. The present times can be called the eighth reincarnation. Delhi has been plundered, pillaged and burnt to the ground only to be built back stronger, richer and more splendid; but in a way unwittingly becoming attractive to the next invader. Delhi teaches us resilience and the ability to bounce back like the proverbial cat with nine lives.

According to recorded historical facts Delhi has seen the establishment of seven cities; if we do not consider the mythological city of Indraprastha believed to be buried under the present Purana Qila. The Seven Cities of Delhi are: Qila Rai Pithora, Mehrauli, Siri, Tughlaqabad, Firozabad, Shergarh and Shahjahanabad.

Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1351-1388) succeeded his cousin Mohammad bin Tughlaq and decided to build his own capital away from Tughlaqabad and Jahanpanah. He was a renowned builder who built hunting lodges, mosques, reservoirs and colleges in and around Delhi. Some of his other well known monuments lie in the Hauz Khas Village area along with his tomb. He also added top two floors on Qutab Minar after it was damaged by lightning and repaired Suraj Kund.

Panoramic View of the Ruins

Panoramic View of the Ruins

Firozabad extended from Hauz Khas to Pir Ghaib in north ridge area and was the first city that was built on the banks of river Yamuna partly to solve the problem of water scarcity experienced in Tughlakabad. It was Mohammad-bin-Tughlaq’s bad luck that both his capitals – Tughlaqabad in Delhi and Daulatabad in Aurangabad – were hit with water scarcity problems.

Firozabad Kotla’s (fortress or citadel) western gate is protected by bastioned walls. Once inside you notice that most of the citadel is in ruins. There are few structures with surviving roofs. All you see are the shells of ruined structures, exposed subterranean passages, low rubble masonry walls and stumps that were once pillars to magnificent palaces and halls. Also seen are few structures with pyramid roofs. Ten years after Firoz Shah’s death, Taimur arrived on his plunder excursion in December 1398, pillaged the city, prayed at the mosque and decamped with the goodies. Later, successive rulers dismantled the surviving structures and used the stone in the construction of Shahjahanabad and other structures.

Main features of the citadel that have largely survived are the Ashokan Pillar, Jami Masjid and the Baoli.

Panoramic View from Ashok Pillar

Panoramic View from Ashok Pillar

Jami Masjid - View from Ashok Pillar

Jami Masjid – View from Ashok Pillar

Ashok Pillar

Pyramid of Cells is a three tiered diminishing pyramid like structure with the Ashok Pillar towering on top inscribed with edicts in Pali. The pillar was originally erected in Ambala by Emperor Ashok. The thirteen metre tall pillar is made of polished sandstone and weighs about 27 tonnes. When the sun rays falls on the pillar it glints like brass. Another Ashok Pillar brought from Meerut was installed in the ridge area of North Delhi.

Pillar and Jami Masjid

Pillar and Jami Masjid

Jami Masjid

Jami Masjid

Next to the pillar is the Jami Masjid. The masjid has entrance from the north with stairs leading up. Only the south & west walls survive. Friday prayers are held in the courtyard. There are underground accessible calls below the structure. Timur too prayed here and was so impressed with the architecture that he built a similar mosque in Samarkand. The loot financed it and the Delhi workers taken prisoners as spoils of war built it.

Few steps away from the pillar and the masjid is the Baoli or a stepwell. Presumably there used to be elaborate piping system connecting the baoli to the Yamuna. The palace walls on the east were flanked by the flowing river. Now Yamuna has shifted eastwards. Urban legend has it that about six years ago a teenager urinated in the baoli while bathing. The resident Djinns were not happy and drowned the boy. Since then the baoli has been cordoned off.

Nothing beats the romance and magic of visiting a monument in Delhi on a wintry Sunday afternoon. The light December breeze has cleared the smog. The air seems almost crisp. Kotla Firoz Shah is an oasis in the middle of the city. It is hard to imagine that exactly 614 years ago on an equally beautiful December day this fortress was being plundered. Soak in the atmosphere sprawled on the green grass under the flitting sun. You can see Delhi’s first skyscraper Vikas Minar in the south, the IG Stadium in the east, floodlights of Firoz Shah Kotla Stadium just yards away, and for company you have crows, mynahs, eagles, dogs and even cats. Chat up the security guard for nuggets of information.

Palace Ruins

Palace Ruins

Apparently, this is the only place in Delhi supposed to be the abode of Djinns or spirits. Believers come and light up diyas and incense sticks. Some people even leave written requests. The steady stream of believers assures that wishes are being granted by the Djinns. Thursday is the day when most people come with their petitions and leave offerings. It is believed that the Djinns love Delhi so much that they cannot bear to see it deserted. The day beliefs die, city dies and you die. This is your city. You were born here. You are a link in the continuum stretching over several millenniums. Visiting Delhi’s heritage is like connecting with your past; it is connecting your soul and spirit with the spirit of your city. You are walking the same ground people who built this city walked on. Delhi has been attracting people through ages: people who were welcomed, people who assimilated; people who provided their own colour and texture to the canvas that Delhi is. Once in a while we need to take this walk. Djinns will love it.

Darya Ganj Book Bazaar

Darya Ganj Book Bazaar

Getting There: Indraprashtha or Pragati Maidan are the nearest metro stations from where you can walk or take an auto. Kotla Firoz Shah is a place which will grow on you gradually. So two hours will just fly away. Walk out of the gates and see the Khooni Darwaza built on the traffic island on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. Few yards away Delhi Gate welcomes you to Delhi’s seventh city of Shahjahanabad. Pick a book in the Sunday Book Bazaar on the sidewalks of Darya Ganj. In the evening curl up with the book to cap a perfect Delhi winter day.


  • Wow! A great post on the great history.
    Firoz Shah Tughlaq was a great lover of ancient history.
    He is largely forgotten in the history due to the atrocities he committed on the Hindus.

  • History revisited through you and I really like the way you started. Fantastic.
    There are thousands of monuments in Delhi and if you go to any of these sites, you will just feel amazed…there may be only a few city or country can compete with Delhi in this regard.

    Lovely pictures; Tx for taking us there.

  • Vipin says:

    ?? ?????? ?? ???? ???, ?? ????, ???????, ?????!

    Love this city, it has it’s own charm, it’s culture, it’s flavour and it’s colour…beautifully expressed in this post by you. Your posts are always pretty informative, but different from the history lessons…have been to this mystical place a couple of times, the stories of djinns, ghosts are in plenty told by the locals…and you do get a ghostly feel while negotiating through the ruins & the walls…Sunday book bazaar has been a very frequent & favourite hang out for me…I would go there every now & then, it’s a paradise for book lovers…I have got some expensive books & useful books at throw away prices here…:)…Many thanks for bringing this gem to us, Nirdesh Ji!

    Just a suggestion through you post, isn’t it a good idea that we dilliwale ghumakkar could do such walks (with history experts like you or some others) on a monthly basis or so? Will be fun to meet local ghumakkars and unearth the layers of this charming city together, what say?

    • Nirdesh says:

      Hi Vipin,

      I echo your sentiments. I love my Delhi too! Lately, Delhi is in news for all the wrong reasons. And therefore, we need to bring out the good things about Delhi and celebrate them.

      Thanks for appreciating. Even I cant believe the places i am seeing now, I havent seen them before! And Darya Ganj book bazaar is one of them.

      It is a great idea about ghumakkars going out on heritage walks around Delhi. This winter I have covered Kotla, Purana Qila, Lal Qila, Hauz Khas Village, Qila Rai Pitthora (opp Malviya Nagar metro station), Siri Fort, Bijay Mandal, Begumpur Masjid. Still to do is the Nizamuddin area, Tughlaqabad and Adilabad, Mehrauli Archeological Park and North Delhi ridge area. Of course cruising Lutyen’s Delhi streets on a sunday morning with roundabouts in full bloom is the ultimate experience.

      Thanks again and lets unearth layers together (provided I am not away on official tour)!

  • Hi Nirdesh…. Beautiful post about various monuments of Delhi…. That vertical pillar picture is most amazing… Keep them coming..

  • SilentSoul says:

    great story… I have seen this place 1000s of times… but never knew so much history about it. btw what is the secret behind the name Khooni Darwaza ???

    • The Khooni Darwaza (Bloody Gate) earned its name after the three princes of the Mughal dynasty – Bahadur Shah Zafar’s sons Mirza Mughal and Khizr Sultan and grandson Mirza Abu Bakr, were shot by William Hodson on September 22, 1857 during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (also known as the First War of Indian Independence). After having secured the surrender of the Emperor, Hodson the next day asked for an unconditional surrender from the three princes at Humayun’s Tomb. They had gathered an army of thousands of rebels and refused. Hodson, armed with one hundred horsemen ordered the band to disarm which they did. Thus he got an unconditional surrender of the three princess. On their way to the Red Fort, Hodson ordered the three to get down at the spot, stripped them naked and shot them dead at point blank range. The bodies were then taken away and put up for public display in front of a Kotwali.

      • Nirdesh says:

        Great history trivia, Praveen!

        Yes those were scary days in Delhi. British were livid after the mutiny. Also they wanted revenge for the Kanpur and Lucknow killings. And since Bahadur Shah Zafar had sided with the First War of Independence rebels, he was a target.

        After these killings, Zafar was sent to Burma on a bullock cart signalling the end of Mughal dynasty.

    • Nirdesh says:

      Hi SS,

      Sometimes we need to stop and smell the roses. Every lane and every stone in Delhi has a story!

  • Abhee K says:

    Nice post and beautiful pics…

    Keep sharing

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    Wow, Nirdesh, simply wow. Of all the major cities in India, Delhi has the most amazing history which stretches far back in time. From the days of the Mahabharata to the present day, it has had its ups and downs, its moments of agony and ecstasy. This post of yours reminds us that there is much more to Delhi than meets the eye.

    “You are a link in the continuum stretching over several millenniums. Visiting Delhis heritage is like connecting with your past; it is connecting your soul and spirit with the spirit of your city. You are walking the same ground people who built this city walked on. Delhi has been attracting people through ages: people who were welcomed, people who assimilated; people who provided their own colour and texture to the canvas that Delhi is. Once in a while we need to take this walk. Djinns will love it.” We too love this quote, Nirdesh. Simply superb; even Dalrymple would have been proud of it. BTW, you were able to catch a huge error in Dalrymple’s much acclaimed book which many have missed-that it is the soul and not the body that gets reincarnated.

    I always insist that one can never truly appreciate a place if we are unaware of its history. You have expertly blended the past and the present to serve us a delectable cocktail. Firozshah was indeed a great builder but he was under the grip of the ulema (clergymen) and in order to please them, he committed terrible atrocities on his subjects if they refused to convert to his faith. Like Aurangzeb, he too was the son of a Rajput princess; in deeds, he was equally abhorrent.

    The Ashokan pillars reminded me of the Obelisks of Egypt, popularly known as Cleopatra’s needles. These columns were topped with golden pyramids which scattered the sun’s rays in all directions (Sun was an important deity in the Egyptian pantheon).

    Mr. Ram Dhall, the ghumakkar emeritus, has also written an epic series on Delhi. You must read it if you have not already done it. Looking forward to knowing more about the numero uno city in India through you.

  • Nirdesh says:

    Hi DL,

    Thanks for the effusive praise.

    Delhi is a charmer. Yes, if we go a little prepared with the history of the place and builder, we are able to appreciate the monuments that more. Also, since Delhis history is quite linear, it helps put that slice of history in perspective.

    Thanks for the obelisk trivia. In that sense, even the Washington monument is an obelisk.

    I just went through Ram Dhalls post. The similarity in our posts is uncanny! I had come across Nikhil Chandras posts on Ghumakkar during my research. I am not sure if he went through all Seven Cities of Delhi.

    Thanks again for the appreciation.

  • Gita AM says:

    Lovely post Nirdesh.

    Wish I had seen this before my last visit to Delhi, I would have gone there for sure. I was quite near the Pragati Maidan too! I went to see the Agrasen ki Baoli which I had just recently heard of and would have loved to go to Firozabad too.

    Next time …

  • Nirdesh says:

    Hi Gita,

    Thanks for the appreciation.

    (Note to me – go see Agrasen Ki Baoli)

    Firozabad lies off the touristy radar in Delhi so not many people know about it. The place is a charmer and usually quite except Thursdays.

    I am sure you will be back in Delhi soon. It also has a baoli.

  • AUROJIT says:

    Hi Nirdesh,

    Your descriptions are real charmers :-)
    Djins keeping Delhi on – an interesting notion indeed!
    Thanks for an informative post and lucid prose.


  • Nirdesh says:

    Hi Auro,

    Thanks for reading.

    Delhi boasts of amazing peices of history. It just needs to be dug out and then you need to brace yourself to be awed out of your brains.

    Thanks again!

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Fluid-ic and sublime, in theme with the character of the place. We also visited Kotla during winters last and it was fabulous. As you observed, it doesn’t attract a lot of visitors and ASI has done a swell job of those lush lawns. Brilliant.

    @ Vipin – Yes, guess we think alike. :-). We did come very close to organising a heritage walk but could never execute. I look forward to leaders.

    I am also leaving the links of Ram Dhall’s posts as being mentioned in the comments, for the benefit of future readers.

  • Nirdesh says:

    Hi Nandan,

    Thanks for the appreciation! Kotla is a great place for a sunny afternoon in winters. Feroz Shah was a great builder and I plan to write a post on his structures in Delhi. Instead of pulling down buildings, he actually repaired them. Shahjahan and Sher Shah Suri should have learned from him. Shahjahan pulled down Kotla and Sher Shah pulled down Siri Fort.

    Nikhil Chandra had also written about seven cities of Delhi. I am not sure if he completed all seven cities and whether he is still active on Ghumakkar.

  • Hi Nirdesh,

    If history had been taught to us in our school in such a lovely and engaging manner, I would not have developed a relationship of hostility with this subject ! I pray to God Ji that your posts are made an integral part of our history textbooks. God knows why, our regular textbook authors have expertise in converting even the most lively subjects as geography, history, literature and science into the most atrocious readings for the students.

    Please do bring out a book on history to save at least the future generations of our country. They deserve to read you. If you do it, that would be mighty nice of you.

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Sushantji,

    It is nice to have you back.

    Yes, its true, books in India are designed to bore the hell out of students. Also, I feel kids who are intelligent do not care how the books are written. They will ace their exams anyway. It is people like me with average intelligence who need books that are illustrative, explanatory and carry live examples. Otherwise it was just ratta and vomitting everything out during the exams and then not remembering anything about that subject a week later.

    History classes could have been a lot interesting living in Delhi, but teachers never bothered. I do hope things have changed today.

    Aapke mouth mein ghee aur shakkar – i do hope to write a book sometime. I know at least one copy will be sold!

    Thanks for all the appreciation!

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