Ahmadabad is both a living, modern city and a splendid relic of the past.
India’s famous walled city on the bank of the Sabarmati river is the nation’s first UNESCO World Heritage city. Built in the early 15th century by Sultan Ahmad Shah of the Gujarat kingdom, legend has it that the sultan chose the location at the site of his capital city after he witnessed the unusual spectacle of a hare chasing a dog along the riverbank and took it as an omen.
The city was conquered in 1573 by the Mughals, who further decorated it with lush gardens. Some six decades later, Ahmadabad was struck by famine, marking the beginning of the end of its golden age. After a series of conquests throughout the centuries, it eventually became a center of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent movement for Indian independence. Visitors can still make a pilgrimage to the Gandhi Ashram built on the riverbank on the outskirts of the city.
The city’s historic center was guarded by imposing stone walls embellished with elaborately carved columns and arches and ornate gates. Inside, the city is a mosaic of religious and cultural influences, where mosques keep company with Hindu and Jain temples built in later periods.
The centerpiece of the old city is Bhadra Fort, built as the royal complex in 1411. The fortified walls of the citadel contained 43 acres that housed royal palaces, mosques, and a public square. Outside the fort, the Jami Mosque, also dating to the 15th century, is one of the most stunning in India and a peaceful refuge from the chaotic modern city outside.
The mosque was hewn from intricately carved yellow sandstone carved with intricate embellishments typical of the time. In the main prayer hall, a veritable forest of 260 columns support the roof and its 15 domes, creating an engaging play of light and shadows. The tomb of Ahmad Shah lies nearby and is also a major tourist attraction, with its ornate construction of latticed windows, domes, and minarets.
Another popular site, the Jhulta Minar, or Shaking Minarets, is known both for the beauty of its design—the three-story minarets are covered in intricate carvings—and for an engineering curiosity. The minarets were designed so that if one of them is shaken, the other vibrates, while the connecting passage between them remains still.
Abby Sewell is a freelance journalist based in Beirut covering politics, travel, and culture. Follow her on Twitter at @sewella.