Delhi in the 19th century – Vintage Pictures

By Somali K Chakrabarti

I asked my soul: What is Delhi? She replied: The world is the body and Delhi its life. ~ Mirza Ghalib

An excerpt from Delhi : A Novel, by Khushwant Singh.

Delhi, a city with a rapidly changing skyline, has been a part of India’s ancient history.

Indraprastha, the legendary capital of Pandavas, is described in the epic Mahabharat and it is believed to have existed where the present day New Delhi is.

The city that has witnessed the rule of many dynasties over centuries, has been plundered, destroyed and rebuilt several times.

Hindu kings from the dynasties of the Maurya, Kushan, Gupta, Tomar Rajputs and Chauhan Rajputs ruled Delhi till the 12th century. The end of the 12th century saw the onset of the Delhi Sultanate, and marked the beginning of the rule of Islamic rulers including Ghori, rulers from the Mamluk (Slave) dynasty, Khiljis, Tughlaks, Lodi, and later on the Mughals.

Delhi passed into the direct control of British Government in 1857 after the First War of Indian Independence, and became the capital of British India in 1911.

Here is a collection of Vintage Pictures of Delhi from the 19th century. The pictures are mostly of the architectural structures of the British and Mughal period, most of which exist till date.

New Delhi, designed by Edwin Lutyen and some other brilliant architects such as Robert Tor Russell, E. Montague Thomas, Herbert Baker, did not exist in the 19th century and was inaugurated in 1931.


VIEW OF QUTB – DELHI , ca 1850

Delhi - Qutb 1850

Watercolours, painted on ivory plaques with the views of Qutb, Delhii by unknown artist ca.1850

Qutb Minar, the world’s tallest brick minaret at 72.5 metres, was built in 1193 by Qutb-ud-din-Aibak, the first Muslim ruler of Delhi. Qutab-ud-din Aibak commenced the construction of the Qutab Minar, but could only finish the basement. His successor, Iltutmush, added three more storeys, and in 1368, Firoz Shah Tughlak constructed the fifth and the last storey.


Ruins of Tughluqabad Fort by Samuel Bourne ca.1858. 

Delhi - Ruins of Tughlakabad Fort 1858


Tomb of Nizamuddin Auliya , Delhi , by Samuel Bourne ca.1860

Delhi-Tomb of Nizamuddin Auliya 1860

The colossal fort of Tughlaqabad was constructed between 1321–25 by Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, who founded the Tughlaq Dynasty.

It is said that the curse of a Sufi Saint Nizam-ud-din Auliya brought about the demise of Tughlaqabad. The saint was angered when Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq did not allow his people to work for the saint on the construction of a baoli (step well). He cursed that the sultan, who was then in Bengal, would never reach Delhi and the fort would be deserted. Both the prophecies of the saint came true, as the sultan died before he could reach Delhi and his successor chose to build his own fort and deserted Tughlaqabad.


View of Delhi near the Tomb of Humuayun by Thomas & W. Daniell, ca 1803 

Delhi- Tomb of Humayun 1803

Built in 1565 A.D. nine years after the death of Humayun, this garden tomb is the first substantial example of Mughal architecture in India. The tomb has a centrally located well proportional mausoleum topped by double dome.


Red Fort by John Murray, Delhi after the Uprising, ca. 1857

Delhi- Red Fort, after Uprising


Watercolours, painted on ivory plaques with the views of Jama Masjid, Delhi by unknown artist ca.1850

Delhi - Jama Masjid 1850

Mughal emperor, Akbar had moved the capital to Agra in the 1570s. Shah Jahan transferred the capital back from Agra in the mid-17th century. Old Delhi, walled city of Delhi, India, was founded as Shahjahanabad by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1639 and it  remained the capital of the Mughals until the end of the Mughal dynasty.

The Red Fort, was the residence of the Mughal emoeror of India for nearly 200 years, until 1857. Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned construction of the Red Fort in 1638 and it was completed by 1648. Standing across the road in front of the Red Fort, is the Jama Masjid, one of the last architectural works of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.

 Jantar – Mantar, Delhi. Pencil & watercolour on paper by William Simpson ca. 1864

Delhi - Jantar Mantar 1864

Jantar Mantar, the unique observatory built by Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II of Jaipur in 1727, was used to observe the movements of sun, planets and other heavenly bodies. The structure incorporates buildings of unique geometric forms, each with a specialized function for astronomical measurement, and represents the scientific heritage of India.


Tomb of Safder Jung, Delhi, by Samuel Bourne c.1858-60

Delhi -Tomb of Safder Jung 1858-60

Safdarjung’s Tomb is the last enclosed garden tomb in Delhi in the tradition of Humayun’s Tomb. It was built in 1753- 54 as mausoleum of Safdarjung, an able administrator and the viceroy of Awadh under the Mughal Emperor, Mohammed Shah.


Kashmiri Gate by John Murray, Delhi after the Uprising, ca. 1857

Delhi-Kashmir Gate 1860

Unknown mosque at Kashmiri Gate by John Murray, Delhi after the Uprising, ca. 1857
Delhi - Mosque Kashmere Gate, after Uprising

Kashmere Gate was constructed in 1835 AD by an English Military Engineer named Robert Smith as a gateway that leads to the famous Red Fort and faces the State of Kashmir from where it derives its name. It has witnessed some of the major events of the First Struggle of Independence in 1857.

The area around Kashmere Gate houses some of the old monuments such as St. James’Church – one of Delhi’s oldest churches; Dara Shikoh’s library and the old St Stephen’s College, which later was replaced by the old campus of Delhi College of Engineering.


St.James Church at Kashmiri Gate by John Murray, Delhi after the Uprising, ca. 1857

Delhi - St.James Ch, after Uprising

These structure, most of which have been preserved till date, convey a sense of the past grandeur and make one marvel at the engineering skills of the workers in those days.

 Pictures shared by : Mr Abdul Ghaffar (@ghaffar12)

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17 thoughts on “Delhi in the 19th century – Vintage Pictures

  1. Bhudeb Chakrabarti 03 December 2014 Kolkata
    Your well researched post on Delhi in the 19th Century – Vintage Pictures will encourage people to cultivate keen interest in the chequered history of the old City .

    Liked by 1 person

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