Many cities grew in magnificence under the reign of Shah Jahan, but few benefited as much from his patronage as the city of Delhi. Delhi, which had previously served as a capital during the age of the Sultanate of Delhi, was established as the capital of the Mughal Empire by Shah Jahan in the early 17th century. The city was rebuilt with many new civic buildings and a tremendous Red Fort (not to be confused with the Red Fort of Agra). But his architectural triumph here was the Jama Masjid of Delhi. This absolutely enormous mosque, the largest in India at the time of its construction, is the de-facto national mosque as well as the most visited mosque in the country.
At the height of his reign, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan spent much of his time and wealth rebuilding the cities of Agra and Delhi into major metropolis. His first efforts were in Agra, where he renovated the Red Fort, built the Jama Masjid and began work on the Taj Mahal, the mausoleum for his beloved wife. In Delhi, he oversaw the construction of a new Red Fort, which would go on to serve as the royal residence of the Mughals in the ensuing centuries.
After the completion of these projects (except the Taj Mahal), he turned his attention to the last and arguably greatest of his civic projects, a new national mosque for the new national capital. This mosque, also to be called the Jama Masjid, would be among his crowning works. It would also be among the last to be completed under his supervision.
The Jama Masjid of Delhi was completed in 1656, a few years before Shah Jahan was deposed by his sons. It became one of his greatest legacies, and subsequently survived a very turbulent period in India’s history. The city was sacked by the Maratha Empire in 1737, by the Persians in 1739, by the Afghans in 1757, and captured by the British in 1857. The mosque survived all of these and other tribulations.
After independence and the division of India and Pakistan, the Jama Masjid became an important symbol of the diminished Muslim community, many of whose members had departed to Pakistan. This may or may not be related to two terrorist incidents which took place at the mosque in the 21st century: a bombing in 2006, and a shooting in 2010. Neither of these incidents has undermined interest in pilgrimage to the mosque.
The Jama Masjid in Old Delhi is the most famous and the most stunning mosque in India. It is also one of the largest mosques in the Subcontinent. Built of red brick with extensive marble and white stone accents, it features a spectacular colonnaded façade typical of Shah Jahan’s works, as well as minarets at the four corners and three domes. One of the most striking differences of the Jama Masjid from Shah Jahan’s other mosques is that it stands at the top of a hill and must be accessed by one of three immense staircases.
The mosque interior is a vast space which can accommodate thousands of worshippers, with tens of thousands more in the exterior courtyard. The interior halls and sanctuary are sumptuously decorated with scrollwork and inlay. Among the mosque’s treasures is an extremely old copy of the Qur’an and other interesting artifacts.
The Jama Masjid is located close to the Red Fort in Old Delhi on the north side of the city. It is open from shortly after sunrise to just before sunset, closed to non-Muslims during prayer times. There is no cost of admission, however there is a camera fee. As of this writing no other visitor information was available for this site. Web: www.delhitourism.nic.in (official tourism website of Delhi).
Shah Jahan began his great construction campaign even before ascending his father’s throne, leaving literally dozens of monuments to posterity. In Delhi, there is the magnificent Red Fort palace complex built for the Mughals as a residence. In Agra, he constructed the the Jama Masjid of Agra as well as the world famous Taj Mahal in memory of his wife.