Fatehpur Sikri, “the City of Victory,” was built during the second half of the 16th century by the Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556–1605). It was the capital of the Empire and seat of the grand Mughal court, but only for 14 years. Despite bearing exceptional testimony to the Mughal civilization at the end of the 16th century, it had to be abandoned due to the twin reasons of lack of water and unrest in north-west India, leading the emperor to shift the capital to Lahore. Akbar decided to construct it in 1571, on the same site where the birth of his son, the future Emperor Jahangir, was predicted by the wise saint Shaikh Salim Chisti (1480–1572). The work, supervised by the great Mughal himself, was completed in 1573. The complex of monuments and temples, all uniformly in Mughal architectural style, includes one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid, the Buland Darwaza, the Panch Mahal, and the Tomb of Salim Chishti. The English traveller Ralph Fitch considered the city in 1585 as ‘considerably larger than London and more populous.’ Its form and layout strongly influenced the evolution of Indian town planning, notably at Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi).
The city has numerous other palaces, public buildings and mosques, as well as living areas for the court, the army, servants of the king and for an entire population whose history has not been recorded. Sikri an extension of the upper Vindhyan ranges is situated on the bank of a large natural lake, which has now mostly dried up. It is a pre-historic site and, with abundant water, forest and raw material, it was ideal for primitive man’s habitation. Rock shelters with paintings exist on the periphery of the lake. Stone age tools have been found in this area. Ochre Coloured Pottery (c. 2nd millennium B.C.) and Painted Grey Ware (c.1200-800 B.C.) have also been discovered from here. Sikri has been mentioned in the Mahabharata as ‘Saik’. Lexicons define ‘Saik’ as a region surrounded by water. An inscription found on the stone sculpture of Jaina Saraswati (dated 1067 Vikram Samvat = 1010 A.D.) mentions this place as ‘Sekrikya’, which seems to be a similar derivative. All this shows that Sikri was continuously inhabited since the prehistoric period. Babur visited the place on the eve of the Khanwah battle in A.D. 1527 and mentioned it as ‘Sikri’ in his Memoirs. He founded here a garden and a Jal-Mahal surrounded by the lake-water, and a baoli (step-well) to commemorate his victory in the Khanwah battle.
Akbar (1556-1605), grandson of Babur, shifted his residence and court from Agra to Sikri, for a period of 13 years, from 1572 to 1585 to honour the Sufi Saint Sheikh Salim Chishti, who resided here (in a cavern on the ridge). Akbar revered him very much as the Saint had blessed him with a son who was named Salim in 1569. He raised lofty buildings for his use, and houses for the public. Thus grew, a great city with charming palaces and institutions. Akbar gave it the name of Fathabad and which in later days came to be known as “Fathpur Sikri”. All these palaces were built of red sandstone in the trabeate beam-and-post order, and composed of pillars, ornamental arches, brackets-and-chhajjas, jharokhas, chhatris, chhaparkhats, chaukhandis and so on. Domes have been used sparingly. Sometimes corbelled pendentives have been employed in the transition phase. The architecture of Fatehpur Sikri has a definite all-India character. It is prolific and versatile Indo-Muslim composite style, which is a fussion of the composite cultures of indigenous and foreign origins.