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Delhi’s Seven Cities

Rome was not built in a day, and nor was Delhi! It actually goes more than 5000 years ago. Let’s take a look at all the cities that existed before the Delhi that we see today, and the people who built them.

  • Indraprastha (c.1500 BCE – 900 BCE)

Although its precision is contested, many historians locate the city of Indraprastha around Purana Qila in present day New Delhi. Dating back to the era between 1500 BCE and 900 BCE, it is paralleled with the Indraprastha of the Mahabharata, that the Pandavas built themselves. It also finds mentions in Buddhist texts as the capital of the Kuru Mahajanapada. The qila that stands today, however, was built during the Mughal period, and named Shergarh after Sher Shah Suri, under whose reign its construction continued.


  • Qila Rai Pithora (1170 AD)

Rai Pithora is Persian for King Prithviraj who is said to have built the fortified complex that incorporates the Qutub Minar complex in Mehrauli, extending to Saket and Sanjay Van areas. Historians agree that Lal Kot, built during the Tomara rule was extended by Prithviraj Chauhan of the Chahamana dynasty to build Qila Rai Pithora. Modern excavation however suspects that Prithviraj never lived in the city and ruled instead from Ajmer. The city was also the seat of the Slave dynasty that oversaw the building of Qutub Minar.


  • Siri (1303 AD)

Alauddin Khalji of the Khalji dynasty built Siri fort, also called Darul Khilafat or Seat of the Caliphate, in present day South Delhi to protect the city from Mongol assault. A gory legend describes how the ruler built the fort on the heads of several Mongols and thus the name siri, referring to heads. The only older city of Delhi that was never conquered, Siri was unfortunately plundered by later rulers like Sher Shah Suri  for construction materials. The thick walls of the ruins still stand today.


  • Tughlaqabad (1321 AD)

Tughlaqabad was the city of Ghazi Malik’s dreams when he was a slave to a Khalji ruler. When he assumed the throne as Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, he built the historic city of Tughlaqabad with as many as 52 gates, out of which only 13 remain. It is said that the city was cursed by Sufi Saint Nizamuddin Auliya, following which the ruler died and the fort, too, was soon abandoned. Of the surviving structures, the citadel known as Bijay Mandal and several halls remain. 

Mohsin Javed Photography

  • Jahanpanah (1326 AD)

Translating literally into the refuge of the world, this city was built by Ghiyas-ud-din’s successor, Muhammad bin Tughlaq. He included the area between Qila Rai Pithora and Siri fort and built structures such as Begumpuri Masjid, Lal Gumbad and Serai Shaji Mahal. Unfortunately, neither the city nor the fort has survived. Muhammad’s  inexplicable decision of abandoning Delhi and shifting the capital to Daultabad led to rapid decline of the city. Its ruins can be found in what is presently known as Khirki village in South Delhi.


  • Firozabad (1354 AD)

Feroz Shah Tughlaq was the successor of Muhammad bin Tughlaq and a passionate builder. He built what we know today as Feroz Shah Kotla fort and extended the city from Indraprastha to the Ridge. He is famed to have built some 1200 gardens, 200 towns and many mosques and villages. He also brought two sandstone pillars with Ashokan inscriptions and installed them in Delhi. One of them stands within the fort enclosures among other structures such as Jami Masjid and a Baoli that is said to be visited by djinns.

  • Shahjahanabad (1648 AD)

Shahjahan’s city of Delhi is the most visible today among the older cities. Structures like Red Fort and Jama Masjid give us an idea of the grand scale on which this city was built. Many gates, such as Kashmere Gate, Delhi gate and Lahore Gate adorned the city. Post Shahjahan’s rule, it was battered time and again by invaders and lost several pieces of artistic importance as well as valuable stones such as Daria-e-nur. Now known as Old Delhi, Shahjahanabad continues to charm people.

Complement your dose of Delhi’s history with this article on the Siege of Delhi

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