|Jaisalmer Quilla or Sonar Quila|
|Part of Jaisalmer State Rajputana|
|Jaisalmer district, Rajasthan|
Jaisalmer Fort panorama
|Controlled by||Jaisalmer State|
|Built by||Rawal Jaisal,|
|Occupants||About a quarter of Jaisalmer's population|
|Designated||2013 (36th session)|
|Part of||Hill Forts of Rajasthan|
Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest fortifications in the world. It is situated in the city of Jaisalmer, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It is a World Heritage Site. It was built in 1156 AD by the Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal, from whom it derives its name. (Rawal Jaisal's son was Shalivahan II; Manj and Bhati Rajputs are descended from him.) The fort stands amidst the sandy expanse of the great Thar Desert, on Trikuta Hill, and has been the scene of many battles. Its massive yellow sandstone walls are a tawny lion colour during the day, fading to honey-gold as the sun sets, thereby camouflaging the fort in the yellow desert. For this reason, it is also known as the Sonar Quila or Golden Fort. The fort is located in the very heart of the city, and is one of the most notable monuments in the locality.
In 2013, at the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jaisalmer Fort, along with 5 other forts of Rajasthan, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the group Hill Forts of Rajasthan.
During medieval times, the city played a major role in trade with Persia, Arabia, Egypt and Africa. The fort contains 3 layers of walls. The outer or the lower layer is made out of solid stone blocks and it reinforces the loose rubble of Trikuta Hill. The second, or middle, wall snakes around the fort. From the innermost, or third, wall, the Rajput warriors once hurled boiling oil and water as well as massive blocks of rock at their enemies, who would become entrapped between the second and third walls. This defences of the fort include 99 bastions, of which 92 were built between the period of 1633-47.
Ala-ud-din Khilji attacked and captured the fort in the 13th century and managed to hold it for 9 years. During the siege of the fort the Rajput women committed Jauhar. The second battle at the fort happened in 1541, when Mughal emperor Humayun attacked the fort city.
With the advent of British rule, the emergence of maritime trade and the growth of the port of Bombay led to the gradual economic decline of Jaisalmer. After independence and the Partition of India, the ancient trade route was totally closed, thus sealing the fate of the city. Nonetheless, the continued strategic importance of Jaisalmer was demonstrated during the 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan. Although at one point the entire population of Jaisalmer lived within the fort, it today has a resident population of about 4,000 people who are largely from the Brahmin and Daroga communities. They are mostly descendants of the workforce of the Bhati rulers of Jaisalmer which was permitted to reside within the fort's premises. With an increase in population, people gradually relocated to the foot of the Trikuta Hill and the town of Jaisalmer spread out from the fort.
- Raj Mahal (Royal palace)
- Laxminath temple
- 4 massive gateways
- Merchant Havelis. These are large houses often built by wealthy merchants in Rajasthani towns and cities in North India, with ornate sandstone carvings. Some havelis are many hundreds of years old. In Jaisalmer there are many elaborate havelis carved from yellow sandstone. Some of these have many floors and countless rooms, with decorated windows, archways, doors and balconies. Some havelis are today museums but most in Jaisalmer are still lived in by the families that built them. Among these is the Vyas haveli which was built in the 15th century, which is still occupied by the descendants of the original builders. Another example is the Shree Nath Palace which was once inhabited by the prime minister of Jaisalmer. Some of the doors and ceilings are notable examples of old carved wood from many hundreds of years ago.
The fort has an ingenious drainage system called the ghut nali which allows for the easy drainage of rainwater away from the fort in all four directions of the fort. Over the years, haphazard construction activities and building of new roads has greatly reduced its effectiveness.
The fort has numerous eateries, including Italian, French, and native cuisines. The famous Indian film director Satyajit Ray wrote the Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress), a detective novel, based on the fort and he later filmed it here. The film became a classic and a large number of tourists from Bengal and around the world visit the fort annually to experience for themselves the world that Ray portrayed in the movie.
Threats to the Fort
The Jaisalmer Fort today faces manifold threats that are a result of the increasing population pressure on it. Water seepage, inadequate civic amenities, derelict houses and seismic activity around the Trikuta Hill are some of the major concerns impacting the Fort. Unlike most other forts, the Jaisalmer Fort has been built over a weak sedimentary rock foothill which makes its foundations especially vulnerable to seepage. Over the years this has led to the collapse of significant portions of the Fort such as the Queen’s Palace or Rani Ka Mahal and parts of the outer boundary wall and the lower pitching walls.
The World Monuments Fund included the Fort in its 1996 World Monuments Watch and again in the 1998 and 2000 reports due to the threats posed to it by an increase in its resident population and the increasing numbers of tourists who visit it every year. The Fort is one of Rajasthan's most popular tourist attractions with as many as five to six hundred thousand tourists visiting it annually. As a result, it is abuzz with commercial activities and has seen a phenomenal growth in both human and vehicular traffic.
Major restoration work has been undertaken by the World Monuments Fund and UK based charity Jaisalmer in Jeopardy. According to former INTACH chairman S.K. Misra, American Express has provided more than $1 million for the conservation of Jaisalmer Fort. The absence of coordinated action among the various government departments responsible for civic amenities, the local municipality and the Archaeological Survey that is responsible for the upkeep of the fort is a major impediment in its maintenance and restoration.
- Sharma, Abha (September 23, 2012). "Desert's sinking fort". The Hindu.
- World Monuments Fund - Jaisalmer Fort
- S.K. Misra, Indian Express, "INTACH has earned its position," April 7, 2010.
- Website on Jaisalmer Fort in Rajasthan - Jaisalmer Fort (Sonar Quila) Information
- "Jewel of India: Saving Jaisalmer, Realm of the Rajput Princes," ICON Magazine, Spring 2003, p. 22-25.
- World Monuments Fund, Jaisalmer Fort: Third Technical Mission, Identification of a Pilot Project, New York, NY: 2000.
- World Monuments Fund, Restoration of Jaisalmer Fort: Assessment of Outer Fort Walls, New York, NY: 2000.
- Crump, Vivien; Toh, Irene (1996). Rajasthan (hardback). London: Everyman Guides. p. 400. ISBN 1-85715-887-3.
- Michell, George, Martinelli, Antonio (2005). The Palaces of Rajasthan. London: Frances Lincoln. p. 271 pages. ISBN 978-0-7112-2505-3.
- Tillotson, G.H.R (1987). The Rajput Palaces - The Development of an Architectural Style (Hardback) (First ed.). New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 224 pages. ISBN 0-300-03738-4.