It was the 17th day of Muharram 966 A.H. (30 October, A.D. 1558). Akbar, just 16 years old but already at the helm of affairs of a vast empire, arrived at Agra by way of the Yamuna. Agra from now onwards would be the new capital of the Mughals. Akbar made improvements to the city, giving it water supply and drainage systems. Then, in 1565, he began to build the Agra Fort on the site of an earlier walled fort. Abu’l Fazl, the chief chronicler of Akbar’s reign, not surprisingly treats the foundation of the new fort as a major event in the young monarch’s early rule:
He at this time gave directions for the building in Agra . . . of a great fortress such as might be worthy thereof and correspond to the dignity of his dominions. An order was then issued that the old fort which was built on the east bank of the Jamna . . . should be removed and then an impregnable fort should be built of hewn stone. It was to be stable like the foundation of the dominion of the sublime family and permanent like the pillars of his fortunes.
In constructing this fort at Agra, the young Akbar was trying to make his presence felt on the physical and political landscape of the empire. As Abu’l Fazl makes it clear, his intent was to create a monument that would symbolize the military prowess of the Mughals. In addition, by establishing Agra as his capital barely two years after his ascension to the throne, Akbar bestowed upon it the position of the first city of the realm -— a position that remained more or less intact throughout his reign. Despite the importance attached to Fatehpur Sikri and Lahore neither of the two managed to acquire the same importance. The construction of the Agra Fort complex constituted an early affirmation of Akbar’s intended role for the city.
The new fort complex comprised a palatial city complex, and served as the seat of power not only for Akbar but also for his successor Jahangir, and his grandson Shah Jahan. Although Shah Jahan shifted the capital to Delhi in 1648, Agra continued to remain a prime administrative and palatial centre.