Jaisalmer Fort

Coordinates: 26°54′46″N 70°54′45″E / 26.9127°N 70.9126°E / 26.9127; 70.9126
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Jaisalmer Fort
Swarna Durg, Jaisalmer Quilla or Sonar Quila
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India
Jaisalmer Fort
Jaisalmer Fort is located in India
Jaisalmer Fort
Jaisalmer Fort
Jaisalmer Fort is located in Rajasthan
Jaisalmer Fort
Jaisalmer Fort
Coordinates26°54′46″N 70°54′45″E / 26.9127°N 70.9126°E / 26.9127; 70.9126
TypeDesert fortification
Site information
Controlled byJaisalmer State Rajputana
Open to
the public
ConditionProtected Monument
Site history
Built1155 AD
Built byRawal Jaisal
Garrison information
OccupantsAbout a quarter of Jaisalmer's population
Criteriaii, iii
Designated2013 (36th session)
Part ofHill Forts of Rajasthan
Reference no.247
RegionSouth Asia

Jaisalmer Fort is situated in the city of Jaisalmer, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It is one of the very few "living forts" in the world (such as Carcassonne, France), as nearly one fourth of the old city's population still resides within the fort.[1][2] For the better part of its 860-year history, the fort was the city of Jaisalmer. The first settlements outside the fort walls, to accommodate the growing population of Jaisalmer, are said to have come up in the 17th century.[1]

Jaisalmer Fort is the second oldest fort in Rajasthan, built in 1156 AD by the Rawal (ruler) Jaisal from whom it derives its name, and stood at the crossroads of important trade routes (including the ancient Silk road).[1]

The fort's 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 Swarn Durg, Sonar Quila or Golden Fort.[3] The name Sonar Quila (Bengali for Golden Fortress) was popularized by tourists after famous Bengali film of the same name, that was shot in this fort by eminent filmmaker Satyajit Ray. The fort stands amidst the sandy expanse of the great Thar Desert on Trikuta Hill, hence also known as Trikutgarh. It is today located along the southern edge of the city that bears its name; its dominant hilltop location making the sprawling towers of its fortifications visible for many miles around.[4]

In 2013, at the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jaisalmer Fort, along with five other forts of Rajasthan, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the group Hill Forts of Rajasthan.[5]


A view of the fortress above the city, in the evening

Legend has it that the fort was built by Rawal Jaisal, a Bhati Rajput, in 1156 CE.[6] The story says that it superseded an earlier construction at Lodhruva, with which Jaisal was unsatisfied and thus, a new capital was established when Jaisal founded the city of Jaisalmer.

Around 1299 CE, Rawal Jait Singh I faced a long siege by Alauddin Khalji of Delhi Sultanate, who is said to have been provoked by a Bhati raid on his treasure caravan. By the end of the siege, facing certain defeat, the Bhati Rajput women committed 'Jauhar', and the male warriors under the command of Mularaja met their fatal end in battle with the Sultan's forces. For a few years after the successful siege, the fort remained under the sway of Delhi Sultanate, before being eventually reoccupied by some surviving Bhatis.[7]

During Rawal Lunakaran's reign, around 1530–1551 CE, the fort was attacked by an Afghan chief Amir Ali. When it seemed to the Rawal that he was fighting a losing battle, he slaughtered his womenfolk as there was insufficient time to arrange a jauhar. Tragically, reinforcements arrived immediately after the deed was done and the army of Jaisalmer became victorious in its defence of the fort.

In 1541 CE, Rawal Lunakaran also fought Mughal emperor Humayun when the latter attacked the fort on his way to Ajmer.[8] He also offered his daughter in marriage to Akbar. Mughals controlled the fort until 1762.[9]

The fort remained under the control of Mughals until 1762, when Maharawal Mulraj took control of the fort.

The treaty between the East India Company and Mulraj on 12 December 1818 allowed the Mulraj to retain control of the fort and provided for protection from invasion. After the death of Mulraj in 1820, his grandson Gaj Singh inherited control of the fort.[9]

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 permanently removing the city from its former role of importance in international commerce. Nonetheless, the continued strategic importance of Jaisalmer was demonstrated during the 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan.[citation needed]

Even though the town of Jaisalmer no longer serves as an important trading city, or as a major military post, the town is still able to earn revenues as a major tourist destination. Initially, the entire population of Jaisalmer lived within the fort, and today the old fort still retains a resident population of about 4,000 people who are largely descended from the Brahmin and Rajput communities. These two communities once served as the workforce for the fort's one time Bhati rulers, which service then entitled the workers to reside on the hilltop and within the walls of the fort.[4] With the slow increase in the area's population, many of the town's residents gradually relocated to the foot of the Trikuta Hill. From there the town's population has since largely spread out well beyond the old walls of the fort, and into the adjacent valley below.


The fort is 1,500 ft (460 m) long and 750 ft (230 m) wide and is built on a hill that raises above a height of 250 ft (76 m) above the surrounding countryside. The base of the fort has a 15 ft (4.6 m) tall wall forming the fort's outermost ring, within its triple ringed defence architecture. The fort's upper bastions or towers form a defensive inner-wall perimeter that is about 2.5 mi (4.0 km) long. The fort now incorporates 99 bastions, of which 92 were built or substantially rebuilt between the period of 1633–47. The fort also has four fortified entrances or gates from the townside, one of which was once guarded by cannon.[9] Other points of interest within the fort's walls and grounds include:

  • Suarj Pol, one of the entry gates to the Jaisalmer Fort
    Four massive gateways through which visitors to the fort must pass, situated along with the main approach to the citadel.
  • The Raj Mahal Palace, former residence of the Maharawal of Jaisalmer.
  • Corridor of Jain temple – Jaisalmer Fort
    Jain Temples: Inside Jaisalmer Fort, there are 7 Jain temples built by yellow sandstone during 12–16th century.[10][11] Askaran Chopra of merta built a huge temple dedicated to Sambhavanatha. The temple has more than 600 idols with many old scriptures.[12] Chopra Panchaji built Ashtapadh temple inside the fort.[13]
  • The Laxminath temple of Jaisalmer, dedicated to the worship of the gods Lakshmi and Vishnu.
  • Haveli in the Jaisalmer fort
    Numerous 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.
  • Nathmal Haweli with signature seals of architects
    Nathmal Haweli [14] is an iconic monument of Jaisalmer fort. It is built in yellow sand stone that shines like gold under Sun. The haweli is named after Nathmal, the then Prime minister at the court of Jaisalmer. [15] It was built by two brothers Lulu and Hathi, simultaneously, from different segments. For this reason, the building has no symmetry, yet it is an excellent piece of art, and ornate architecture. These architects left their signature at the plinth of the building as a carving of a Rajputana warrior on elephant. The building is characteristically identified with two elephants on either side. The building is a mix of Islamic and Rajputana style of architecture.

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.[4]

Jharokhas in Jaisalmer Fort


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.[4] Six forts of Rajasthan, namely, Amber Fort, Chittor Fort, Gagron Fort, Jaisalmer Fort, Kumbhalgarh and Ranthambore Fort were included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list during the 37th meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Phnom Penh during June 2013. They were recognized as a serial cultural property and examples of Rajput military hill architecture.[16][17]


Jaisalmer Fort (from Sonargadh)

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.[4]

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.[18] 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.[4]

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.[19] 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.[4]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Fort full of life". www.frontline.in. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  2. ^ contributor, Shalbha Sarda (13 November 2023). "A UNESCO World Heritage site with thousands of people living inside it". CNBC. Retrieved 18 November 2023. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  3. ^ "The Fantastic 5 Forts: Rajasthan Is Home to Some Beautiful Forts, Here Are Some Must-See Heritage Structures". DNA : Daily News & Analysis. 28 January 2014. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Sharma, Abha (23 September 2012). "Desert's sinking fort". The Hindu. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  5. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Hill Forts of Rajasthan". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 12 February 2024.
  6. ^ Rajasthan Guides (Everyman Guides). By Vivien Crump et al. 2002. Pg. 208. ISBN 1-85715-887-3
  7. ^ Rima Hooja (2006). A HISTORY OF RAJASTHAN (PB). p. 368. ISBN 978-81-291-1501-0. The attack on Jaisalmer during Sultan Alauddin Khilji's reign seems to have begun in AD 1299, when its Bhati king Jait Singh I was ruling. The besieged fort withstood the assault and encirclement until, at long last, scarcity of food and provisions played their inevitable part in deciding the issue. By this time, Jait Singh may have already lost his life, as tradition holds, and the crown taken up by his son, Mularaj. It was at this stage that the women of Jaisalmer fort performed jauhar, while the men, led by Rawal Mularaj, and his younger brother Ratan Singh, flung open the gates of the fort and rushed forth to die fighting to the last. Some sources suggest that Mularaj died in an earlier sortie, and that Ratan Singh (or Ratan-Si), succeeded him as Rawal and carried out the defence of Jaisalmer, until the final shaka. In any event, once Jaisalmer was invested, it is known to have remained in Khilji hands for the next few years
  8. ^ "Fort full of life". www.frontline.in. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  9. ^ a b c Verma, Amrit (2003). Forts of India. New Delhi: The Director, Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. pp. 21–23. ISBN 81-230-1002-8.
  10. ^ "Hill Forts of Rajasthan". UNESCO. 21 June 2013.
  11. ^ Melton 2014, p. 125.
  12. ^ Jain 2005, p. 231.
  13. ^ Jain 2005, p. 232.
  14. ^ "Incredible India | Nathmal Ki Haveli".
  15. ^ "Nathmal Ki Haveli Jaisalmer - Rajasthan". 9 March 2022.
  16. ^ "Heritage Status for Forts". Eastern Eye. 28 June 2013. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  17. ^ "Iconic Hill Forts on UN Heritage List". New Delhi, India: Mail Today. 22 June 2013. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  18. ^ World Monuments Fund – Jaisalmer Fort
  19. ^ Misra, S.K. (7 April 2010). "INTACH has earned its position". Indian Express. Retrieved 4 July 2015.


Further reading[edit]

  • Crump, Vivien; Toh, Irene (1996). Rajasthan (Hardback). London: Everyman Guides. ISBN 1-85715-887-3.
  • Michell, George, Martinelli, Antonio (2005). The Palaces of Rajasthan. London: Frances Lincoln. ISBN 978-0-7112-2505-3.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Tillotson, G.H.R (1987). The Rajput Palaces - The Development of an Architectural Style (Hardback) (First ed.). New Haven and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-03738-4.

External links[edit]