Shahjahanabad, a historic city of Delhi and the capital during the peak of Mughal power in India, has undergone many changes since it was first established by the Emperor Shahjahan in the 1650s. The northern areas of the city, between Chandni Chowk and Kashmiri Gate have perhaps seen the bulk of this transformation. At the time of the founding of Shahjahanabad, the area contained vast mansions belonging to the Mughal royalty and nobility. Both Dara Shikoh, the heir apparent to the Mughal throne and Ali Mardan Khan, a trusted courtier of Shahjahan, had their mansions here that covered over ten hectares between them. In fact, part of Dara Shikoh’s mansion still survives albeit in a much altered state and is being used as an archaeological museum while the underground chambers of Ali Mardan Khan’s house, built in the nineteenth century, is now the office of the Northern Railway. When the British first moved into Delhi they established this area as the centre of administrative power, adding several new colonial buildings, both religious and institutional or simply adding to, or co-opting older buildings.
Among the earliest churches in Delhi, the St James’ Church, built by Colonel James Skinner, has altered very little since its construction in 1836. The area was also the scene of many a battle during the uprising of 1857, also known as the First War of Indian Independence. The remains of the Magazine Gateway and the Kashmiri Gate, with its cannon marks, stand as witnesses to the lives lost by Indian soldiers in their bid for freedom from British rule. Momentous changes came to the area after the revolt, when the British obliterated large parts of Jahanara’s gardens and established a railway line, bisecting the city into two distinct, disconnected halves. The area, however continued to be a fashionable residential and commercial centre of Delhi, a status it lost only after the inauguration of New Delhi in 1931. Buildings like the Kashmiri Gate Bazaar and the house of its builder, Lala Sultan Singh, bear testimony to a time when political stability in Delhi had led to prosperity and the rise of the merchant class and a spurt in building activity here. Later buildings such as the Bengali Club and the post office building suggest that the area continued to remain culturally vibrant even after development had moved to other areas such as Civil Lines and New Delhi. More recently, with the construction of the ISBT and introduction of the metro line, the area has again become the communication hub it once used to be.