This beautiful engraving of the city of Shahjahanabad, the grand capital of Mughal India, was already a memory when it was published in The Illustrated London News on January 16, 1858. The previous September, the British besiegers of Delhi had breached the city, putting many of its inhabitants to the sword, raping and pillaging as they went. Much of Shahjahanabad was destroyed, including the city’s mansions. Not only was a beautiful city virtually erased from the map, much that was precious, including materials like manuscripts, was lost forever.

What this picture captures for its English readership is the calm before the storm, and one of the world’s prettiest and most prosperous cities at the time. The Red Fort with its Mughal Gardens (sans the ugly barracks the British later built), the spacious Jama Masjid compound and Daryaganj, the wide boulevard of Chandni Chowk with its mansions, the markets, houses, gardens and turrets that dot the city. Most stunningly, a broad Yamuna wound beside the ramparts of the walled city. Today you’ll find the Ring Road there. If you look carefully, you will see the tiny village of Dilli, the Lodhi and Tughlaq-era ruins, Qutub Minar and the South Delhi Ridge in the background.

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