Probably the oldest continuously inhabited region in Delhi, the area around the Qutb Complex, commonly known as Mehrauli, is the site of Delhi’s oldest fortified city, Lal Kot, founded by the Tomar Rajputs in AD 1060.
The Turks invaded the city of Lal Kot in AD 1192 and with this brought in the Sultanate rule. The Quwwatul- Islam Mosque (1192) is a masterpiece of Indo-Muslim art and one of the oldest mosques in India.
Probably the most significant building of early Sultanate rule is the Qutb Minar (A UNESCO World Heritage Site) built in the early part of the thirteenth century. Around the Qutb are important buildings like Iltutmish’s Tomb(1235), the magnificent Alai Darwaza (1310), and Alauddin’s Madrasa (1317) built by later sultans such as Iltutmish and Alauddin Khalji.
Alauddin Khalji also started to build another minar, that was meant to overshadow the Qutb Minar completely. The construction of this building was abandoned after his death and today, only a rubble base known as the Alai Minar remains.
Map of the Qutb Complex
"Qila Lal Kot"
Qila Lal Kot
Lal Kot was built by the Rajput Tomar ruler Anang Pal II in the mid-eleventh century after they shifted from their previous settlement Suraj Kund. The Chauhan rule saw further expansion into the fortified area that became Qila Rai Pithora.
A veneer of quartzite blocks on the walls is supported by rubble. The brick superstructure, a few remains of which can be seen was built either at this time or in the Sultanate period. One can also discern the ruins of gateways and bastion along the old walls.
"Late Mughal Garden and Sarai"
A map of 1876 indicates an important traverse route through the Qutb Complex connecting Delhi and Gurgaon. The garden belonging to the late Mughal era and the sarai (inn) within the Qutb Complex were probably built as a halting place for travellers to Delhi along this route. The complex also finds mention in early twentieth century descriptions as a rectangular, enclosed, late-Mughal garden with compartments, and a mosque in rubble masonry abutting the enclosing walls. Today the sarai stands at the entrance of the Qutb Complex with a lush green lawn in the centre, embellishing the space even more. The garden, currently closed for public, adjoins the sarai complex which comprises of an L-shaped series of enclosures that housed the travellers.
"Tomb of Imam Zamin"
East of the Alai Darwaza stands the tomb of Imam Zamin. A native of Turkestan, Zamin came to India during the reign of Sikandar Lodi (ad 1488–1517) and probably discharged important duties in connection with the Quwwat-ul- Islam Mosque. This striking tomb is typical of the Lodi period with sandstone piers filled in with lattice screens. The square chamber is surmounted by a dome of sandstone covered with plaster, rising from an octagonal drum.
The Alai Darwaza was conceived to be the main gateway to the ambitious extension of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque undertaken by Alauddin Khalji in the early fourteenth century. Its four gateways, forming a square, are covered by a wide, bulging dome with a central knob, resting on horse-shoe shaped arches.
Alai Darwaza: One of the finest examples of the early Sultanate style of architecture in India.
Finished in red sandstone and marble, the entire gateway except the dome is richly carved with geometrical patterns and inscriptions in naskh characters.
The arches are decorated with a lotus bud fringe on the underside, features that seem to be an influence of West-Asian traditions
One of the great iconic buildings of the thirteenth century, this majestic cylindrical tower continues to be a symbol of fortitude and architectural brilliance of the country. Its construction marked the victory of the Turks over the indigenous Chauhan Dynasty. At the same time its style and embellishments represented the beginnings of an architectural style combining Indian and Central/West-Asian traditions.
The construction started during Sultan Aibak’s rule (1192–1210) who only lived to see the completion of the base and the first storey, 29 m high. The minar appears to have derived its name from its founder, Qutbuddin Aibak. Alternately, it is also believed that the minar was named in honour of a local saint Bakhtiyar Kaki, popularly known as Qutb Sahib who had greatly inspired Sultan Iltutmish (successor of Sultan Aibak).
Tallest of all, the first storey evidently depicts a conbination of Indian and Islamic aesthetics with intricate floral patterns, undulating outlines, and even bells at some places blending beautifully with verses of Quran engraved.
Rising up to nearly 72.5 m, the tower tapers extensively from a diameter of 14 m at the base to approximately 3 m at the top, as an embellished inverted cone reaching the sky. A spiral staircase inside with nearly 379 steps leads to the top.
Built in red sandstone, marble, and quartzite, all storeys are surrounded by a projected balcony encircling the minar that are supported by exquisitely carved stone brackets.
Quwwat-ul-Islam (‘Might of Islam’) Mosque, derives its name from the merit of being the first mosque built in Delhi after Islamic conquest at the end of the twelfth century, by Qutbuddin Aibak, the first sultan of the Slave Dynasty. Known to be the first building in the Qutb Complex, the mosque was built in a period of four years. The first set of boundaries were acquired over twenty-seven Hindu-Jain temples that were demolished as an act of war to establish the power of Ghurid Turk rule in the newly acquired city of Delhi.
Expansion of the mosque continued after Aibak's death by his able son-in-law and General of the Army, Iltutmish, in 1230. Extension of the western screen wall from either side, enclosing the original boundaries and the Qutb Minar resulted in a space almost double the size of the original mosque.
The massive stone screen erected a few years later continues to be the only original Islamic element left in the mosque; consisting of a central corbelled arch, 6.7m wide and 16 m high, with two similar, smaller arches on either side. Constructed in rubble masonry, the arch is faced and profusely carved in red sandstone with exquisite floral patterns, verses of the Quran in Arabic calligraphy.
Detail of carving on the stone screen
"The Iron Pillar"
Standing at the centre of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the Iron Pillar is undeniably amongst the most famous heritage attractions in Delhi.
Dating back to fourth century AD, the pillar bears a four-lined Brahmi inscription centrally along its length, that states that the pillar was installed by Chandragupta II Vikramaditya, in honour of the Hindu god Vishnu.
Originally placed within a Vishnu Temple Complex at Udayagiri, the pillar for many unknown reasons was later moved to its current location. It is the oldest Hindu relic standing today in the sprawling Qutb Complex. Being a part of the complex even before Aibak’s conquest, the pillar perhaps stimulated the idea of a taller minar - the Qutb Minar.
This intriguing piece, a marvel of architecture and traditional knowledge, with its austerity and natural brilliance has never ceased to amaze archeologists, metallurgists, academicians, and of course tourists, for the way it has resisted corrosion through the last 1600 years.
Placed right in front of the prayer hall, embedded 1 m below the ground, the pillar stands 7.5 m high, weighing approximately 6.5 tons and is made of 98% wrought iron of the purest quality.
The pillar’s superior corrosion-resistance ability is attributed to the pure composition of iron, a high presence of phosphorous, and the method of casting. It is a testimony to the unique skill achieved by ancient Indian iron smiths
This self-built tomb of the second ruler of the Slave Dynasty, Shamsuddin Iltutmish, was built in 1235. The structure sits along the north-west corner of the Qutb Complex, next to Iltutmish’s own extensions of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, and was one of the first tombs to be built in the city.
The tomb is 9 square meters in plan. Its sheer austerity on the exterior, is a striking contrast to the heavily decorated interior. Constructed in Delhi quartzite and faced with red sandstone, the tomb finds access from all three sides leaving the west wall for the prayer niche (mihrab) facing Mecca.
The space inside, faced in red sandstone, is profusely carved with Arabic inscriptions, geometrical and intricate arabesque patterns displaying a maturation of the early style evident in the Qutb Mosque. Here too however, Hindu designs like the lotus, kalash, and bandhanwar (floral door hangings), have been used as motifs.
Placed centrally over a raised platform is the main cenotaph in white marble with the burial chamber or the actual grave beneath the tomb.
Interior of Iltutmish's tomb
"Alauddin Khalji’s Tomb and Madrasa"
Alauddin Khalji, the second sultan of the Turko-Afghan Khalji Dynasty, acquired many districts and undertook extensive construction in and around Delhi. Within the Qutb complex, the sultan was involved in the construction and conception of many structures including the Alai Minar, an extension of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, and its magnificent gateway - the Alai Darwaza. In his honour, the sultan's nobles gathered immediately after his death and constructed a tomb and madrasa in his name in AD 1316. A learning center in conjunction with a tomb and madrasa appears here for the first time, perhaps inspired by West-Asian traditions.
The complex sits at the back of the Qutb Complex, lying immediately to the south-west of Iltutmish's extension of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque.
Originally entered through the north, the madrasa with an L-shaped layout comprises a series of cell-like enclosures that functioned as schoolrooms. The madrasa is essentially a row of seven rooms, two of them domed, along the western edge of a rectangular court.
The square tomb is centrally placed towards the southern edge of the same court. With a pronounced entrance in the centre, the tomb is flanked on either side by chambers, seemingly smaller in scale, where perhaps rest the graves of Alauddin's family.
This incomplete minar that lies within the northern boundaries of the Qutb Complex evidently symbolizes the supremacy and might of the sultan of the Khalji Dynasty, Alauddin Khalji. To commemorate his victory over his Deccan campaigns, the sultan dreamt of erecting a tower right opposite and twice the size of Qutb Minar inside the enclosure of the mosque.
The 24.5 m high minar of just a single storey remained unfinished after the sultan’s death in 1316.
—All material for this exhibit has been taken from INTACH Delhi Chapter's publications.