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The Jaisalmer Fort: A medieval architectural marvel and one of the largest forts in the world

David Goran

ituated in the city of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, India, in the heart of the Thar Desert, the unique Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest fully preserved fortified cities in the world, with about 3,000 people residing within its walls. The complex is also known as Sonar Kila (“Golden Fort”) for its gleaming golden sandstone walls and buildings, camouflaging the fort in the yellow desert.

 

often popularly referred to as the “Golden Fort” or “Sonar Kella” due to its honey gold-colored appearance at sunset. Photo Credit

Often popularly referred to as the “Golden Fort” or “Sonar Kella” due to its honey gold-colored appearance at sunset. Photo Credit

The Jaisalmer Fort appears like a mirage in the vast desert and, surprisingly, hosts a thriving city within its sandstone walls. It has several entrances, namely Hawa Pol, Ganesh Pol, Rang Pol and Jawahar Pol, one of which used to be guarded by cannon, and each is uniquely and exquisitely crafted.

The complex of Jaisalmer fort is so expansive that almost one quarter of the town’s population located in this fort itself. Photo Credit

The complex of Jaisalmer fort is so expansive that almost one-quarter of the town’s population located in this fort itself. Photo Credit

 

A cannon guards one of the four entrances to the town. Photo Credit

A cannon guards one of the four entrances to the town. Photo Credit

The fort was built in 1156 AD by King Rawal Jaisal, a Hindu Rajput ruler, from whom it derives its name. He was searching for a new capital, as the earlier one, Lodurva, was too vulnerable to invasions.

Jaisalmer Fort shows incredibility in architectures among all historical monuments of Rajasthan. Photo Credit

Jaisalmer Fort shows incredibility in architectures among all historical monuments of Rajasthan. Photo Credit

During medieval times, the Jaisalmer Fort served as an important center of trade between India and the Arabic world. During British rule, the emergence of maritime trade and the growth of the port of Bombay led to gradual economic decline. Thus, the fort city lost its former glory.

This fortress has faced many battles and invasions. In the 13th century, Ala-ud-din Khilji attacked and captured the fort and managed to hold it for nine years. The second battle at the fort happened in 1541 when Mughal emperor Humayun assaulted the city. The fort remained under the control of Mughals until 1762 when Maharawal Mulraj took control.

The Fort of Jaisalmer survived several attacks by the Muslim rulers like Ala-uddin-Khilji and Mughal Emperor Humayun. Photo Credit

The Fort of Jaisalmer survived several attacks by the Muslim rulers like Ala-Uddin-Khilji and Mughal Emperor Humayun. Photo Credit

The architectural marvels of the fort, like the royal palace, the Laxminath temple, and Jain temples, provide a glimpse of the grandeur of ancient India and it now serves as an important tourist destination.

The fort complex comprises of several buildings such as palaces, temples, houses, wells, havelis. Photo Credit

The fort complex comprises of several buildings such as palaces, temples, houses, wells, and havelis. Photo Credit

 

Ancient Temples. Photo Credit

Ancient Temples. Photo Credit

 

Chandraprabhu temple inside Jaisalmer Fort. Photo Credit

Chandraprabhu temple. Photo Credit

Also within it are many beautiful havelis (a generic term used for a traditional townhouse and mansions in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh) and a group of Jain temples of Rajasthan dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Some havelis have many floors and countless rooms, with decorated windows, archways, doors, and balconies. Some of them are now museums but most in Jaisalmer are still lived in by the families that built them.

An old havelis inside Jaisalmer Fort. Photo Credit

An old havelis inside Jaisalmer Fort. Photo Credit

 

In 2013, the fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo Credit

In 2013, the fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo Credit

 

Sculptures in Jaisalmer Fort Museum. Photo Credit

Sculptures in Jaisalmer Fort Museum. Photo Credit

 

(inside the palace. Photo Credit

Inside the palace. Photo Credit

Currently, the Jaisalmer Fort is facing immense threats from growing population pressures and a weak structural foundation. Over the years, significant portions of the Fort collapsed, such as the Queen’s Palace or Rani Ka Mahal and parts of the outer boundary wall and the lower pitching walls.

Major restoration work has been undertaken by the World Monuments Fund. Photo Credit

Major restoration work has been undertaken by the World Monuments Fund. Photo Credit

Unlike most other fortresses, the Jaisalmer Fort was built over a weak sedimentary rock foothill which makes its foundations especially vulnerable to seepage. To save the fort, the World Monuments Fund has supported the Indian Government with funds needed to initiate and implement restoration works at the site.