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Old Delhi (Hindi: पुरानी दिल्ली, Punjabi: ਪੁਰਾਣੀ ਦਿੱਲੀ, Urdu: پُرانی دلّی Purānī Dillī), walled city of Delhi, was founded as Shahjahanabad (Hindi: शाहजहानाबाद, Punjabi: ਸ਼ਾਹਜਹਾਨਾਬਾਦ, Urdu: شاہجہان آباد) by Indian Emperor Shahjahan in 1639.[1] It remained the capital of the Mughals until the end of the Mughal dynasty.[2][3]

Scene from Jama Masjid

It was once filled with mansions of nobles and members of the royal court, along with elegant mosques and gardens. Today, despite having become extremely crowded and dilapidated, it still serves as the symbolic heart of metropolitan Delhi.

The site of Shahjahanabad is north of earlier settlements of Delhi, its southern part overlaps some of the area settled during the Tughlaqs. The British city ("Lutyens' Delhi") was developed just south-west of Shahjahanabad.


Walls and gates

It is approximately shaped like a quarter circle, with the Red Fort as the focal point. The old city was surrounded by a wall enclosing about 1500 acres, with several gates[4]:

  1. Nigambodh Gate:North/East, leading to historic Nigambodh ghat on Jamuna
  2. Kashmiri Gate: North
  3. Mori Gate: North
  4. Kabuli gate: West
  5. Lahori gate: West
  6. Ajmeri Gate: South East, leading to Ghaziuddin Khan's Madrassa and Connaught Place, a focal point in New Delhi.
  7. Turkman Gate: South East, close to some pre-Shahjahan remains which got enclosed within the walls, including the tomb of Hazrat Shah Turkman Bayabani.
  8. Delhi Gate: South leading to Feroz Shah Kotla and what was then older habitation of Delhi then.

The surrounding walls, 12 feet wide and 26 feet tall, originally of mud, were replaced by red stone in 1657. In the Mughal period, the gates were kept locked at night. The walls have now largely disappeared[5], but most of the gates are still present. The township of old Delhi is still identifiable in a satellite image because of density of houses.

The famous Khooni Darwaza south of Delhi Gate, was just outside the walled city, it was originally constructed by Sher Shah Suri.


Streets and neighbourhoods

Map of Delhi and New Delhi after the First World War. The descriptions are in Czech.

The main street, now termed Chandni Chowk, runs from the Red Fort to Fatehpuri Masjid. Originally a canal ran through the middle of the street. North of the street, there is the mansion of Begum Samru, now called Bhagirath Palace. South is the street is Dariba, a dense residential area, beyond which is Jama Masjid. Daryaganj is a section that used to border the river at Rajghat and Zeenat-ul-Masajid.

The language Urdu emerged from the Urdu Bazar section of Old Delhi.[6]

Its main arteries are

  • Netaji Subhash Marg/Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg leading to India Gate(North South)
  • Chandni Chowk/Khari Bawli Road (East-West)

Old Delhi is approximately bounded by these modern roads (Google map)

  • Gokhle Marg (North)
  • Mahatma Gandhi Marg road (East)
  • Shraddhananda Rd (West)
  • Jawaharlal Nehru Marg (south)

The New Delhi originally referred to the the newer sections of Delhi (sometimes termed Lutyens' Delhi)developed during the British administration by Edward Lutyens in 1929 and officially inaugurated in 1931.

Old Delhi in 1876

The Lahori Gate of Red Fort from Chandni Chowk.

In 1876, Carr Stephen described the city as follows:[7]

Of the two streets described by Bernier, the longer extended from the Lahore Gate of the city to the Lahore Gate of the citadel, and the other from the Delhi Gate of the city to the Lahore Gate of the fort. Both these streets were divided into several sections, each of which was known by a different name.
The section between the Lahore Gate of the fort and the entrance of the street called the Dariba, known as the Khuni Darwazah, was called the Urdu or the Military Bazaar; owing, very probably, to the circumstances of a portion of the local garrison having been once quartered about the place. Between the Khuni Darwazah and the present Kotwali, or the Head Police Station of the city, the street has the name of Phul ka Mandi or the flower market. The houses in front of the Kotwali were built at a short distance from the line of the rest of the houses in the street, so as to form a square.
Between the Kotwali and the gate known as the Taraiah, was the Jauhari or the Jewellers' Bazaar; between the Taraiah and the neighbourhood known as Asharfi ka Katra, was, par excellence, the Chandni Chauk. There was a tank in the centre of the Chauk the site of which is now occupied by the Municipal Clock Tower, and beyond this to the Fateypuri Masjid was the Fatehpuri Bazaar. The houses round Chandni Chauk were of the same height, and were ornamented with arched doors and painted verandahs. To the north and south of the square there were two gate-ways, the former leading to the Sarai of Jahanara Begam, and the latter to one of the most thickly populated quarters of the city. Round the tank the ground was literally covered with vegetable, fruit, and sweetmeat stalls. In the course of time the whole of this long street came to be known as the Chandni Chauk.
This grand street was laid out by Jahanara Begam, daughter of Shah Jahan.... From the Lahore Gate of the fort to the end of the Chandni Chauk the street was about 40 yards wide and 1,520 yards long. Through the centre of this street ran the canal of 'Ali Mardan, shaded on both sides by trees. On the eastern end of the Chandni Chauk stands the Lahore Gate of the Fort, and on the opposite end the handsome mosque of Fatehpuri Begam.

The clock tower no longer exists. The Sarai of Jehan Ara Begum has been replaced by the city hall. The kotwali is now adjacent to Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib.

Historical spots

Many of the historical attractions are in the Chandni Chowk area and the Red Fort. In addition, Old Delhi also has[8]:

Some of the historical mansions include[10][11]:

Old Delhi Cuisine

Old Delhi is well known for its cuisine, both vegetarian and Mughlai cuisine. Chandni Chowk is home to the famous Gali Paranthe Wali and Ghantewala halwai.

Old Delhi is the home to legendary Mughlai restaurants such as Karim's (located in Jama Masjid area) and the Moti Mahal (located in Darya Ganj). There are a plenty of other restaurants in Muslim areas of Old Delhi such as Jama Masjid, Balli Maran, and Chitli Qabar that sell mouth-watering, spicy Mughlai delicacies such as Tandoori Chicken, Butter Chicken, Nahari, Korma, Biryani, Seekh Kebabs, etc.

Old Delhi is also famous for its street food. Chandni Chowk and Chawri Bazaar areas have many street joints that sell spicy chaat (tangy and spicy snacks).

See also


  1. ^ PAST PRESENT: Shahjahanabad Before 1857 By Mubarak Ali
  2. ^ History of Mughal Architecture By R. Nath, Abhinav Publications, 2006
  3. ^ City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi By William Dalrymple, Olivia Fraser, HarperCollins, 1993
  4. ^ Dilli's gates and windows By Mahtab Jahan
  5. ^ Showers bring down ASI-protected wall in Old Delhi
  6. ^ Ghalib, 1797-1869: In 2vols .Vol.1, Life and Letters, By Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, Ghalib, Asad-Allāh Ḫān Mīrzā Ġālib, Ralph Russell, Khurshidul Islam Published by Allen & Unwin, 1969
  7. ^ Carr Stephen, Archaeology and Monumental Remains of Delhi (Author, 1876), pp. 246-47
  8. ^ Old Delhi- 10 easy walks, by Malone Barton, 2006, South Asia Books
  9. ^ The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857, By William Dalrymple, Vintage, (March 11, 2008)
  10. ^ Havelis of Old Delhi/Text by Pavan K. Varma and Sondeep Shankar. Reprint, First published in 1992. New Delhi, Bookwise, 1999
  11. ^ Itihas ki dastan hain, Dilli ki havelian


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