Amazing Ancient Cities of Color

Popularly known by their names of color as much as their historical designations — the ancient Blue City known as Jodhpur, neighboring Jaipur known as the Pink City, its former capital the Amber City, and Morocco’s Red City of Marrakech — are as much astonishingly beautiful as they are remarkably unusual.


Jodhpur — known as the Blue City for the color of its buildings — is the second largest city in Rajasthan, the largest state of the Republic of India, standing at the edge of the large, inhospitable Great Indian Desert (Thar Desert), which has an edge paralleling the Sutlej-Indus river valley along its border with Pakistan.

Most of the buildings in the old quarter are painted blue to signify the Bhraman (Priest) class, but non-Brahmins soon followed suit, as the color was said to deflect the heat and deter mosquitoes, and suddenly everything turned blue, creating a broad vision of indigo from the hilltops.

Dominated by the monstrous and imposing Mehrangarh Fort that appears to grow from out of a sheer rocky ridge 410 feet (125 meters) high of which the Fort is built of right in the middle of town, the ancient city is surrounded by a 6 mile (10 kilometer) long wall, which has 6 massive gates — the Eastern gate Suraj (Sun) Pol, Western gate of Chand (Moon) Pol, Nagauri gate, Merati gate, Jalori gate, and the Siwanchi gate.

Nahargarh Fort

There are only 3 gates facing in these directions, including the Northern gate which faces toward the ancestral capital of Amber, while many gates face South, and all used to be closed at sunset and opened at sunrise.

The walls of the fort are up to 120 feet (36 meters) high and 70 feet (21 meters) wide, enclosing some exquisite structures and collections of palanquins, howdahs, royal cradles, miniatures, musical instruments, costumes and furniture. The ramparts of Mehrangarh Fort provide not only remarkably preserved cannons, but a breath-taking view of the city.

This was the way that the Rajputs built their formidable forts and to good effect, as Mehrangarh Fort was never successfully stormed, but the 6 gates still bear visible scars of battle.

The fort was built about a century after Jodhpur was founded in 1459 by the Rajpur chief Rao Jodha, for whom the city is named after.

The old quarter is contained within the confines of the fort, with mostly winding, narrow passages and alleys impossibly cramped with street vendors, shops, bazaars, rickshaws, bicycles, bustling people and animals of all shapes and sizes. The present city has expanded from outside of its walls.


Widely known as the Pink City, Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan state, founded in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, the ruler of Amber.

Jal Mahal.

Built of pink stucco in imitation of sandstone, the city is remarkable among pre-modern Indian cities for the width and regularity of its streets which are laid out into 6 sectors separated by broad streets 111 feet (34 meters) wide. The urban quarters are further divided by networks of gridded streets. Five quarters wrap around the east, south, and west sides of a central palace quarter, with a 6th quarter immediately to the east. 

The Palace quarter encloses a sprawling palace complex (the Hawa Mahal, or palace of winds), formal gardens, and a small lake. Nahargarh Fort crowns the hill in the northwest corner of the old city.

Hawa Mahal from front.

Almost all Northern Indian towns of that period presented a chaotic picture of narrow twisting lanes, a confusion of run-down forts, temples, palaces, and temporary shacks that bore no resemblance at all to the principles set out in Hindu architectural manuals which call for strict geometric planning. 

Thus, for Sawai Jai Singh II and the Bengali Guru Vidyadhar (who was a ‘Shaspati’ - Hindu Priest Architect), the founding of Jaipur was also a ritual and an opportunity to plan an entire town according to the principles of Hindu architectural theory. 

The town of Jaipur is built in the form of an 8-part Mandala known as the ‘Pithapada.’ Nine signifies the 9 planets of the ancient astrological zodiac. Sawai Jai Singh II was a great astronomer and a town planner — hence the name Pithapada. The commercial shops are also designed in multiples of nine (27), having one cross street for a planet.

View over the constellation-telescopes at the Jantar Mantar observatory.

Early evening light as the sun sets over Jaipur, basking over Jantar Mantar, and City Palace. Both were designed and built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II.

Below the foothills of that hill lies the Birla Mandir (Hindu temple), which is one of many Birla temples in India. In the middle of the image rises a mid height expanse of red gate — the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds).

Albert Hall Museum
The Jal Mahal Water Palace.

The R style “Water Palace” sits in the center of the Man Sarobar lake which is often dry in the summer, but winter monsoons frequently turn it into a beautiful lake filled with water hyacinths.

Jaigarh Fort The Jaigarh Fort on the hills above the Amber Palace complex offers stunning views of the foothills of the Aravalli range, as well as attractions such as immense underground water-storage tanks, a medieval canon foundry and an impressive collection of medieval cannons including the Jaivana which is reputed to be the world’s largest cannon on wheels. 

Originally the Amber Fort, it became known as Jaigarh from the time of Sawai Jai Singh II onwards. The Jaigarh Fort was built prior to the development of Jaipur and the Aravalli Hills. When Jaipur was created, it assumed great importance, and was restored and equipped to aid the defense of the new city.

Amber Palace.

The Amber Palace Complex overlooking the artificial lake south of the town of Amber is famous for its mixture of Hindu and Muslim architecture, and offering elephant rides from the town up to the palace courtyard.

Hawa Mahal
Peacock Gate

Amber City

Amber was a city of Rajasthan state, India, now part of the Jaipur Municipal Corporation, founded by the Meena Raja Alan singh (from Chanda clan of Meenas).

Amber was a flourishing settlement as far back as 967 AD. Around 1037 AD, it was conquered by the Kachwaha clan of Rajputs. Much of the present structure known as Amber Fort is actually the palace built by the great conqueror Raja Man Singh I who ruled from 1590 - 1614 AD. 

The palace contains several spectacular buildings such as the Diwan-i-Khas and the elaborately painted Ganesh Poll built by the renowned warlord Mirza Raja Jai Singh I (Man Singh I’s grandson).

The old and original fort of Amber dating from earlier Rajas or the Meena period currently known as Jaigarh Fort is actually the main defensive structure, rather than the palace itself, although the 2 structures are interconnected by series of encompassing fortification.

Amber was capital of the Kachwahas until 1727 when the ruler of Amber Sawai Jai Singh II founded a capital about 9 kilometers south of Amber, which was named after him as Jainagara (Jaipur).

After the founding of the new town, the royal palace and houses of prominent people were shifted to Jaipur, but the priests of Shila Devi temple who were Bengali Brahmins continued to live in the fort even to this date, while the Jaigarh fort above the palace also remained heavily garrisoned. The capital of Kachwahas was succeeded by the modern city of Jaipur.

The picturesque situation of Amber at the mouth of a rocky mountain gorge, in which nestles a lake bears remarkable structures of combined Rajput-Mughal architecture. The first Rajput structure was started by Raja Kakil Dev when Amber became his capital in 1036 on the site of present day Jaigarh Fort.

An internal courtyard within the massive Amber Fort and Palace complex in Amber.

There are a number of forts in Jaipur including the older Jaigarh Fort, next to the Amber fort, and the newer City Palace which was established once the city was built. Part of this palace is also open to the public and the current (titleless) Maharaja resides there when he’s not in the UK.

Grand scenic route taken by elephant to the Amber Palace. 
The Raj and his royal court congregated in this pavilion in the early afternoon to sip tea and play Pachesi. Man Singh’s 9 wives lived in the various chambers distributed along the perimeter of this courtyard.
Amber Fort
Amber Fort. 
Interior of one of the palaces in Amber Fort
Lady carrying building materials for renovations at the Amber Fort. 

Marrakech — The Red City

Situated at the foot of the Atlas Mountains is the beautiful imperial city of Marrakech or Marrakesh — known as the “Red City” or “Al Hamra” — capital of the Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz region in southwestern Morocco, fascinating and rich in of history and culture.

The city is spelled “Marrakech” in French, “Marrakesh” in English, and “Marrakesch” in German.

The town of Marrakech is divided into 2 distinct parts, the Medina, or the historical city, and the new city with 2 principal districts called Gueliz — the European modern district of the town — and Hivernage. 

Marrakech has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco and also has one of the busiest squares in Africa, Djemaa el Fna which bustles with acrobats, story-tellers, water sellers, dancers, and musicians by day, turning into a huge open-air restaurant of food stalls by night.

Marrakesh is the 4th largest city in Morocco after Casablanca, Rabat, and Fès, known to early travelers as “Morocco City.” 

Prior to the reign of Moulay Ismail, Marrakech was the capital of Morocco. After his reign, his grandson moved the capital back to Marrakech from Meknès.

For centuries Marrakesh has been known for its ‘7 saints.’ When sufism was at the height of its popularity, during the reign of Moulay Ismail, the festival of the ’seven saints’ was founded by Abu Ali al-Hassan al-Yusi at the request of the sultan. The 7 saints include Sidi Bel Abbas — the patron saint of the city — Sidi Muhammad al-Jazuli, Sidi Abu al-Qasim Al-Suhayli, Cadi Ayyad ben Moussa, and Abdallah al-Ghazwani.

The tombs of several renowned figures were moved to Marrakesh to attract pilgrims in the same way Essaouira did at that time with its Regrega festivals. The ’seven saints’ (sebaatou rizjel) is now a firmly established institution, attracting visitors world-wide.

Marrakech was dominated in the first half of the 20th century by T’hami El Glaoui, Lord of the Atlas and Pasha of Marrakech. The poet of the city was Mohammed Ben Brahim. Poems and songs of Ben Brahim are still known by heart by many Marrakshi.

Based upon legend, the Imilchil Marriage Feast is a Berber marriage festival where up to 40 couples tie the knot in Imilchil in the Middle-High Atlas Mountains near Marrakech, taking place after harvest every year, so the dates always vary.

The Romeo and Juliet-styled legend has it that a man and a woman from 2 local tribes fell in love but were forbidden to marry by their families. They cried themselves to death, creating the lakes of Issly (his) and Tisslit (hers) near Imilchil, a 20-minute walk apart. 

Their families were so stricken with their deaths that they established a day — on the anniversary of the lovers’ deaths — on which members of the 2 tribes could marry each other. 

Today the event serves a purpose to enable otherwise disparate tribes to meet and find partners. Berber women are entitled to divorce and remarry and the market is now essentially made up of widows and divorcees seeking a new husband. 

Women are made up by their families in traditional dress, their single status identifiable by their pointed head apparel while potential husbands browse the goods on offer before settling on a potential match. 

The women’s’ families also determine whether or not the suitor is appropriate — if he’s unwanted, a broken handshake indicates he should move on. But if he’s successful, his bride-to-be will say, “You have captured my liver,” and the match is settled.

Djemma El Fna.

If you want to eat well in Marrakech, do as the locals and eat at the food stalls in the Place which have been around long before Marrakech became a tourist destination. All of the stalls can be considered perfectly safe to eat at, strictly licensed and controlled by the government.

The Koubba el Baadiyin.

The Koubba el Baadiyin, 1117-1120, in its crumbling context — originally it would have been the building’s interior which gave you a sense of opening, space, pause, and even relief as a contrast to the contracted exterior.

Medina of Marrakech UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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