Qutub Minar is the highest tower in India and the world's tallest brick minaret. It is interesting to note that this complex lies amidst the ruins of ancient Hindu temples which were destroyed and their stones used to build it. The construction began in 1193 AD under India's first Muslim ruler Qutb-ud-din Aibak. The Qutub Minar is notable for being one of the earliest and most prominent examples of Indo-Islamic architecture. It is surrounded by several other ancient and medieval structures and ruins, collectively known as Qutub Complex. The complex is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Delhi. It was India's most visited monument in 2006. During 2006 the monument attracted 3.9 million visitors, much more than the Taj Mahal, which drew about 2.5 million visitors. Now you know why you should visit this tall structure.
The Qutub Complex houses several attractions within its premises.
The Tomb of Iltutmish: The Tomb of IItutmish was built in 1235 AD. It is a plain square chamber of red sandstone, profusely carved with inscriptions, geometrical and arabesque patterns in Saracenic tradition on the entrances and interiors. Some of the motifs, the wheel and tassel are reminiscent of Hindu designs.
Ala-i-Minar: The ambitious rubble Ala-i-Minar was started by Ala-ud-Din Khilji but the sultan lived to see it only to the height of 24.5m as nobody was ready to complete his over-ambitious project. It was built to match the enlarged Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid. Today parents use this as an example that when you get over ambitious, the plans remain unfinished.
Ala-i-Darwaza: The southern gateway of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, as extended by Ala-ud-Din Khilji, is known as the Ala-i-Darwaza. Its several inscriptions form an ornamental surface. It mentions the date of its erection as 710 A.H. (1311).
Ala-ud-Din's Tomb and College: To the southwest of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque lie some rooms and halls in ruins making an L-shaped block. They are believed to represent Ala-ud-Din's tomb and college or Madrasa, which was started by him to impart instructions in Islamic theology and scriptures.
Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque: Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, to the northeast of the Minar was built by Qutb-ud-Din Aibak in 1198 AD. It is the earliest extant mosque built by the Delhi Sultans. It consists of a rectangular courtyard enclosed by cloisters, erected with the carved columns and architectural members of 27 Hindu and Jain temples, which were demolished by Qutb-ud-Din Aibak as recorded in his inscription on the main eastern entrance. Later, a lofty arched screen was erected and the mosque was enlarged, by Shams-ud-Din IItutmish and Ala-ud-Din Khilji.
The Iron Pillar: The Iron Pillar in the courtyard bears an inscription in Sanskrit in Brahmi script of 4th century AD, according to which the pillar was set up as a Vishnudhvaja or standard of Lord Vishnu. It is on a hill and is known as Vishnupada in memory of King Chandragupta II (375-413) of the Gupta dynasty. A deep socket on the top of the ornate capital indicates that probably an image of Garuda was fixed into it. Situated in the courtyard of the Quwwat-ul-Islam, the Iron Pillar belongs to 4th century. It is enclosed in the Qutub Minar Complex. The Sanskrit inscription in Gupta script and the peculiar style of its 'Amalaka' capital confirms the date. It is said that the iron pillar was brought to Delhi by Anangpal, the Tomar king who founded Delhi.
At 72.5 m (234 ft), the Qutub Minar is the world's tallest free standing minaret. Inspired by the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan and wishing to surpass it, Qutb-ud-Din Aibak commenced construction of the Qutub Minar in 1193, but could only complete its base. His successor, Iltutmish, added three more stories. Then in 1386, Firoz Shah Tughluq constructed the fifth and the last story. The development of architectural styles from Aibak to Tughluq is quite evident in the minaret. The Qutub Minar comprises several superposed flanged and cylindrical shafts, separated by balconies carried on Muqarnas corbels. The minaret is made of fluted red sandstone covered with intricate carvings and verses from the Quran. The Qutub Minar is itself built on the ruins of the Lal-Kot in the city of Dhillika. Dhillika is the capital of the Tomars and the Chauhans, the last Hindu rulers of Delhi. The complex initially housed 27 ancient Hindu and Jain temples, which were destroyed and their debris used to build the Qutub Minar. One engraving on the Qutub Minar reads, "Shri Vishwakarma prasade rachita" meaning “Conceived with the grace of Vishwakarma”. This is thought to have been engraved by the enslaved Hindu craftsmen who built the minar.
The purpose for building this monument has been variously speculated upon. It could take the usual role of a minaret, a tower of victory, a monument signifying the might of Islam or a watch tower for defense. Controversy also surrounds the origins for the name of the tower. Many historians believe that the Qutub Minar was named after the first Turkish sultan, Qutb-ud-din Aibak but others contend that it was named in honour of Qutb-ud-Din Bakhtiar Kaki, a saint from Transoxiana, who came to live in India and was greatly venerated by Iltutmish.
The nearby Iron Pillar is one of the world's foremost metallurgical curiosities, standing in the famous Qutub Complex. Because of the corrosive qualities of sweat the government has built a fence around it for safety.
The minar did receive some damage because of earthquakes on more than a couple of occasions but was reinstated and renovated by the respective rulers. During the rule of Firoz Shah, the minar's two top floors got damaged due to earthquake but later repaired by Firoz Shah. In the year 1505, earthquake again struck and it was repaired by Sikandar Lodi. In the year 1794, the minar faced another earthquake. This time Major Smith, an engineer, repaired the affected parts of the minar. He replaced Firoz Shah's pavilion with his own pavilion at the top. The pavilion was removed in the year 1848 by Lord Hardinge a nd now it can be seen between the Dak Bungalow and the minar in the garden. The floors built by Firoz Shah can be distinguished easily as the pavilion was built of white marbles and is quite smooth as compared to other ones. The Nagari and Persian inscriptions on the tower mention that lightning damaged it twice in 1326 and 1368.
Qutub Minar has a diameter of 14.32 m at the base and about 2.75 m on the top with a height of 72.5 m. A flight of 379 steps lead to the top. The diameter of the base is 14.3 m, while the top floor measures 2.75 m in diameter. Surrounding the building are many fine examples of Indian artwork. A second tower was in construction and planned to be taller than the Qutub Minar itself. Its construction ended abruptly when it was about 12 m tall. The name of this tower is given as Ala-i- Minar. Recent studies show that this structure is tilted in one direction. It is made of red sandstone all the way except for two stories at the top. This part is of white marble and was made by Firoz Shah Tughlaq. He had decided to put a prominent finish to the magnificent minar.
Today, the adjoining area spread over 100 acres, with a host of old monuments, has been developed by Archeological Survey of India (ASI). The Mehrauli Archeological Park and INTACH has restored some 40 monuments in the park.
The base of the iron pillar is tied to its foundations by small pieces of iron. It rises to a height of 7.20 m, with 93 cm buried below the floor level. It is a wonder that iron has not rusted despite the sixteen centuries that have passed since then. The pillar is an excellent example of advanced metallurgy of those times and is a marvel in itself. The metal of the pillar is identified to be almost pure malleable iron. However, the portion below the ground shows some signs of rusting at a very slow rate. It is said that a person who can encircle the entire column with their arms and back towards the pillar can have their wish granted. However, tourists are kept off from the pillar to avoid damage to this historical relic.