The Old city of Hyderabad

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November 26, 2012 by The Urban Server


Hyderabad, exemplifies a complex morphological structure with an old core surrounded by a modern crust. The historicity of Hyderabad is largely referred to begin from the Fort of the Golconda, which marks the rootage for the advent of the Qutb Shahi dynasty in the Deccan plateau, earlier ruled by the Kakatiyas. This phase was followed by an era of transition between 1687 and 1724 when Hyderabad remained under Mughal control. Post the decay of the Mughal power in the Deccan, Subedar (the governor) Nizam-ul-Milk declared his independence from the Mughals and founded the Asaf Jahi dynasty. This stage was followed by the Subsidiary Alliance – an agreement of the military cooperation – signed between the Nizam and the British East India Company in 1798. A major change was observed after 1908, post the disastrous floods caused by the River Musi which saw major urban planning interventions done in the period of the last two Nizams – the Sixth Nizam, Mir Mehboob Ali Khan and his son, Mir Osman Ali Khan – Nizam VII – such as the constitution of the City Improvement Board (which built various prominent public structures) and introduction of a state-of-the-art drainage system for Water Management.

16The city of Hyderabad was planned by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (1580-1612) as an alternative to ease out the congestion and unhygienic conditions that prevailed in Golconda. The Qutb Shahi capital Golconda was located along the former Masulipatnam (as known under British rule) Highway, which brought in trade and commerce into the Golconda from the Masulipatnam port. Thus the Golconda existed as a major market place apart being a resting dominion along this famed trade route of Goa-Masulipatnam.

In 1591, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth ruler of Golconda, laid the foundation of Hyderabad. He followed his father’s idea who planned to decongest the Fort of Golconda by building the first Bridge on Musi River in 1578. This bridge stands at a distance of one kilometre from Charminar to the north of it. Presently known as Purana Pul, it is an engineering marvel of the Qutb Shahi rulers. Mohammed Quli shifted his palace from the Golconda Fort to the south of the Musi River. The city was thus planned with the Charminar at its center – following the concept of a Garden City (as planned by Mir Momin Astrabadi). The nucleus of the city was planned with four roads perpendicular to each other and a water fountain in centre. These roads divided the city into four parts. The Qutb Shahi Prime Minister Mir Momin who hailed from Iran, planned to design “a replica of heaven on earth’.

5Initially built as a pleasure resort, the city grew in its organization and magnificence with entrance gateways opening into splendid palaces and beautiful gardens facing the Musi Riverfront. The neighboring country side had vast rockscapes, which over the years have been flattened through the course of the development of real estate, though some examples of these rock marvels stand till date.

The walled city of the Asaf Jahi’s, about six miles in circumference, and 2.2 square miles in area, built in a form of a parallelogram, surrounded by a stone wall, and protected with bastions. The city was planned on a grid iron pattern, with two main roads running from east-to-west and North-to-South at their intersection, where the Charminar was built, marking the center of the city. The limits of the walled city were contained in a two and a half mile long wall, consisting of thirteen gates and thirteen posterns, locally known as Darwaza and Khirki respectively. Large sections of the City Wall were damaged by the disastrous floods of the Musi in 1908. Today, out of those thirteen gates, only the Dabirpura Darwaza and Puranapul Darwaza exist in their original state. The Puranapul Darwaza stands at the northern end on the road.

This road existed as the main thoroughfare in the time of the Qutb Shahis and continued to be till early 19th century, when Mussalamjung Bridge was constructed), from Golconda to Charminar via Karvan. There is another bridge built in the period of Nawab Afzal-ud-Daula, Nizam V, named Afzalgunj Bridge or Nayapul, at the end of this bridge there existed a city gate called Afzal Gate. Including this bridge, there are a total of a total of eight bridges across the river that connect the areas on north & south of Musi River. These bridges constituted the major links in the circulation systems from the Walled city to the rest of the city limits. Of the eight bridges, four of them, namely the Tippu Khan Bridge, Mussalamjung Bridge, Naya Pul and the Chadarghat Bridge were constructed by the Asaf Jahi rulers during the 19th century. The skyline of the Walled City is filled with magnificent structures of the late Asaf Jahi era as witnessed from Nayapul. This bridge is flanked by the Salar Jung Museum at Darushifa.

16The Salar Jung Museum is a personal collection of the artifacts of the Salar Jung Family who were the (Prime Ministers of the Nizam). It also holds the record of housing the largest one man collection of antiques in the world. On the same bank is located the City High Court with its soaring granite domes and the City College, and with the river serving as the foreground, it represents a specimen of Indo-Sarsenic architecture, built by Vincent Esch, along with the Osmania General Hospital looking very similar to a grand palace on the north bank.

The bridge, Naya Pul, leads to the inner city limits where we come across a continuity of arches in stone, on either sides of the road, popularly known as the Pathergatti Market. This stretch was built by the City Improvement Board in the 1930’s under its post flood development scheme. Both ends of this two-storied Market with its arcaded verandah, exhibit strong influences of Rajasthani architecture. The market has, a shaded walkway, that accommodate a number of shops selling clothing apparel, pearls, jewelry, perfumes, footwear and other items of interest for tourist and local shoppers. The Pathergatti culminates at the ‘Charkaman’, a Piazza of four sublime arches at cardinal points leading to all four different directions of the city. Crossing this Kaman, (the entrance gateway) we come straight before the magnificent rectangular granite edifice of the Charminar.

Glimpses of Hyderabadi HeritageThis structure has been synonymous with the identity of the city, ever since it was built in 1591 by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah. The four arches of the Charminar support two floors of rooms and a gallery of archways. At each corner of the structure, there is a 24 meter high minaret – from the second floor – which gives the structure its 54 meter height. It has a mosque at the top. Viewing the Nizam’s dominion, atop the Charminar, is a better means to comprehend the conception of Hyderabad from the Qutb Shahi era. The Charminar is placed on a junction (the first cross), and on its northern end, is the second cross at the earlier referred Charkaman, with the Gulzar Houz at its center. The view of the northern end of the city (from the Charminar) illustrates the architectural history of Hyderabad in its different layers: the Qutb Shahi period is represented by the Charminar and the Jama Masjid, followed by the Mecca Masjid which is a fine example of the transitional phase- which saw the advent of the Mughals – followed by the Unani Hospital which, an example of Indo-Saracenic Architecture, belongs to the period of the Asaf Jahis. The 4 Qutb Shahi gateways (Charminar ki kaman, Machhli kaman, Shher-e-Bathil ki Kaman and Kali Kaman) stand at a walking distance from the Charminar in all its 4 directions.  On the street to the east is located the Jama Masjid and the Sardar Mahal – a small palace characterized by the elliptical and semi-circular arches on its façade. This apart, the louvered and panelled doors and the Corinthian pilasters – all conform to the European style, though treated with an indigenous sensibility. A little further from the Mahal is located the Purani Haveli – a site earmarked by the Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah in the late 16th century as a place of residence for his Peshwa (a Maratha titular equivalent of a modern Prime Minister) Mir Momin. However, in the late 18th century, Nizam II acquired it from the late Mir Momin’s descendant Mir Alam, for his son’s (Sikander Jah – the third Nizam) residence. Various renovations in the complex – like the addition of new structures were done gradually through the reign of the later Asaj Jahis.

When we proceed in the direction north of the center, one can see the Jama Masjid (to the north east), the Badshahi Ashur Khana – a mourning hall, the soaring domes of the High court and the hoards of visitors across the Patthergatti stretch. On the street to the south is the Mecca Masjid, with its huge courtyard and a magnificent entrance gate; and down the road, is the grand palace of Falaknuma, an exhibition of the Nizam’s opulence over the hillock of the Koh-e-tur, designed by an Italian architect as required by the Paigah Nawab Vikar-ul-Umrah.
9On the street to the west of Charminar, is the Lad Bazaar, the famous market selling the wares required for an Indian Marriage. Further down the road is, the Shahi Jilu Khana, (the original entrance gate to the splendid Chowmahalla Palace) followed by the Palace itself and the Mahbub Chowk, the Chowk Masjid and aClock Tower that contributes to the skyline. Beyond Mehbub Chowk and in the street parallel to Chowmahalla stands the famous Devdis (a palacial house) of the Paigah Nobles. They were the army chieftens and also had marital alliance with the Nizam’s families.

The Jilu Khana, a multi-cusped arch gateway with two typical Mughal-style Naqqarkhana (meant for the drum beaters to sit) on its either side, lends it an appearance imperial enough to match the magnificence of the Palace. The Chow Mahalla, as suggested by its name, is a complex of four main palaces, all clustered around a courtyard, with each palace meant for a different purpose. It is the first of the several Asaf Jahi structures started. Built over a period of time, the palace complex is a display of various architectural styles: ranging from integrating design elements from the Qutb Shahi, Asaf Jahi, the British, Mughal and Rajasthani styles of architecture.10

Among the striking observations in this area is the hustle and bustle of the Lad Bazaar, a contemporary market set in its rustic ambience, dating back to the Asaf Jahi period. The market which existed as a commercial spine of the erstwhile Walled City and modern Hyderabad for most of its time, represents the intangible assets of the city tradition that have stood the test of time. In addition to the famous lac bangles, the bazaar also sells Itr (fragrant natural perfumes), Mehndi, Surma (Kohl), Laces, Zari (brocade), traditional bridal wares among other items. The Lad Bazaar in its present manifestation is a linkage that connects the city in its present with its imperial past, thereby maintaining the emotional stability and social equilibrium of the average Hyderabadi in general and the old citizens in particular. Though over the years, Hyderabad has sensed the creeping modernity of the IT age that disconnects the city with its rich heritage, the old city still brims with nostalgic adherence to its old traditions, lifestyles and a psychological attachment to space and property among its old residents. It is in the celebration of various festivals like Ramzaan and Id that the character of the old city of Hyderabad is lit up, with members of various communities who engage the public space to co-function – through shopping and celebration – in harmony.

These zones are also characterized by small-scale industries, with entire livelihoods dependant on the cultural identity of the space. These small scale craftsmen in these realms – such as the makers of lac bangles, clothing apparel, warq etc. – are holding on to their existence against the cosmopolitan commercialization of goods and services that represent efficiency over workmanship.


The Charminar locality is a part of the living heritage and characterizes the old city of Hyderabad in its entirety. The site is characterized by an amalgam of different communities who have settled here to serve the ruling dynasties and in time chose to stay on. This composite of various cultures and traditions formed the cultural backdrop, over which the realms of the old city grew beyond its walls over the ages. This cultural heritage is a direct association with the living traditions and ideas of the ruling dynasties and is in no way is less significant than its built and natural heritage. From the pearls, the fashionable jewelry and the clothing to its the old city in particular is characteristic of the traditions that have passed down many generations. In especial terms, Hyderabadi food holds to itself all the prominent attributes that are related to the princely legacy of the former rulers of Hyderabad.

15aThough now spread invariably across the entire city, it is only in the Old City where the legendary attributes of the cuisine are justified. Whether it is the Nihari at five ‘o’clock in the morning hours, the Kebab Roti at Machli Kaman, or the Biryani at Shadab, the Haleem at Pista House, Osmania Biscuits and Irani Chai at Nimra, the old city still stands testament of the bequest of this lavish cuisine that belonged to a bygone royal era. The Hyderabadi food – just as noted with the built heritage – is heavily influenced by Turkish (Biryani), Arabic (Haleem and Kofte), and Mughlai(Kebab) influences, with considerable influence through the participation of spices and herbs of the native Telugu and Marathwada cuisine. The slow-cooking method, that is the hall mark of this culinary art form, has its influence from the Dum Pukht method incorporated in the Awadhi cuisine (from north India). The saying in Hyderabad goes that “…itthmeenaan se (patiently cooking) is the key”. Nothing more literally speaks out the richness of the Hyderabadi cuisine as the use of warq (a very fine, pure silver leaf created by prolonged hammering and flattening of a small piece of silver), which is garnished on food. Warq workshops are found within the old city near the Charminar square, mainly outside Mecca Masjid till today supply the silver foils to sweet shops and for different dishes during marriage functions around the city. Tout ensemble, the physical manifestation of the historic core of the erstwhile walled city and its cosmopolitan character are exemplified in a composite culture represented by its history, art, culture and architecture which defines the city with a unique and outstanding universal value.

1. Vottery, Madhu (2010). A Guide to the Heritage of Hyderabad; Rupa Publication India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, pp.112-134 & 180-200.
2. Ford Foundation Study of HUDA – Conservation of historical buildings and areas in Hyderabad city – 1984.
3. Luther, Narendar (2006). Hyderabad – A Biography; Oxford University Press, New Delhi 2006.
4. Rao, Srinivas (1990). Planning Imperatives for Core Area (Inner City – Hyderabad); Master’s Thesis, IIT Roorkee, pp.1-8.
5. Luther, Narendar (2004). The Nocturnal Court (Darbaar-e-Dürbaar) – The Life of a Prince of Hyderabad; Oxford University Press, New Delhi, pp.XIII-LV.
6. Kapoor, Sanjeev (2008). Royal Hyderabadi Cooking – Popular Prakashan Pvt. Ltd., pp.3


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