Isa Khan’s Complex At Humayun’s Tomb

Completed Project
Delhi, India


The Isa Khan tomb complex is a walled area adjacent to Humayun’s Tomb and is the resting place of Isa Khan Niyazi, a noble of influence at the court of Sher Shan Suri. A mosque and an octagonal tomb built in the Sur style are enclosed in Isa Khan’s walled complex. An inscription on a sandstone slab over the mihrab inside the tomb dates the construction to the Hijra year 954 (A.D. 1547-1548). The complex is the first historic structure encountered by visitors on entering the World Heritage Site complex of Humayun’s Tomb.

How We Helped

WMF has joined the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s Urban Renewal Initiative, which is currently working at Humayun’s Tomb in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. WMF’s work expands the Humayun’s Tomb conservation project to the Isa Khan complex, which is the first historic monument visitors encounter when they visit the Humayun’s Tomb complex. WMF’s project will protect the mosque, tomb, and nearby gateway and tomb of Bu Halima. The intervention includes the repair of leaks, use of traditional lime plaster to restore the mosque dome, and tile work of the inner tomb.

At the end of 2010 the project received a boost when the request to move the road the divides the Humayun's Tomb complex was granted. Once the road removal is accomplished, the historic connection between Humayun’s Tomb and Nila Gumbad will be restored. The reunification of the landscape connecting these great sites will engender a marked improvement in long-term stewardship over these historic cultural treasures.

Physical work began in January 2011 after a period of documentation that included 3D high-definition surveying, condition assessment, archival research, and a peer review of the conservation plan. The studies revealed that the complex is possibly the densest ensemble of medieval Islamic buildings in India. Research also discovered that the outer half of the tomb enclosure was sunk at least two meters below the inner enclosure, making it the earliest known Mughal sunken garden in the country, predating famous example at Akbar’s tomb near Agra by over half a century. 325,000 square feet of earth was removed to restore the garden to its original level. Archaeologists uncovered a number of artifacts, including pieces from the building, during this process.

Another major component of the project is replacing missing ceramic tiles from the roof of the tomb. Since the craft of making ceramic tiles matching the sixteenth-century versions has been lost in India, four skilled craftsmen from Uzbekistan were invited to spend six months working with the local team to experiment and produce tiles that match the originals.

Conservation work continues, but on April 18, 2013, World Heritage Day, the tomb complex reopened to the public.

Why It Matters

The restoration of the area around and including Isa Khan's tomb will considerably enhance the historic and cultural significance of the entire Humayun’s Tomb complex. Because the Isa Khan tomb is located at the entrance to Humayun’s Tomb, it can also serve as an introduction to the site for visitors. Humayun’s Tomb complex, including the adjacent Isa Khan tomb, is recognized as one of the most important Mughal complexes in India, but deferred maintenance has resulted in a range of surface deterioration and weathering of decorative features such as eroded ornamental stucco and cracked glazing tiling, and general dark soiling from atmospheric pollution. The return of Isa Khan's tomb, mosque, gardens, and gateway to a more fitting appearance will allow a fuller appreciation of the beauty and significance of this chapter in India’s architectural and cultural history.

Last updated: October 2015.

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