Postcard from Golconda: The formidable Indian fort that guarded the Koh-i-Noor diamond

The fort was home to different dynasties over 800 years

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Far from the glass-facade corporate offices, the mad rush of the old city and the glitz of South India’s biggest film industry, in Hyderabad lies the majestic Golconda Fort, on a granite hillock that was once home to the world’s most expensive diamond, the Koh-i-Noor.

The 800-year-old citadel, which was a well-planned town, was originally built as a mud fort on a hilltop in 1148, overlooking the expansive city, the now joint capital of the southern Telangana and Andhra Pradesh states.

And even though some parts of it have been reduced to ruins, the grandeur and size make it one of the key historic complexes in the country.

This is one of the most spectacular places I have been to. There is something special about this fort. I particularly like to see the combination of present and past of the city while sitting here
Sriraj, tourist

Under the scorching sun, a large group of tourists – college students, families, and foreigners – trek the colossal ruins and the hillock sprawling across three square kilometres.

“This is one of the most spectacular places I have been to. There is something special about this fort. I particularly like to see the combination of present and past of the city while sitting here,” Sriraj, a 20-year-old tourist told The National.


For 400 years, the Golconda Fort kept changing hands from one dynasty to another that ruled the erstwhile eastern Deccan region, and served as part of its defences.

It was initially a mud fort built on a holy spot by the erstwhile Kakatiya Empire, who ruled the region between the 12th and 14th centuries.

“The fort was under Hindu Kakatiya kings for 200 years. After that Muslim Bahamani Sultanate reconstructed It. It took them 62 years. The kings and queens used to live inside the fort. It was later taken over by the Qutub Shahis,” said Abdul Kareem, a guide with the Telangana government.

The fort was initially called Golla Konda, meaning shepherd’s hill in the regional Telugu language, named after a shepherd who found a Hindu deity idol on the rocky hill.

It was later fortified by the Bahmani Sultanate, a late medieval Muslim empire that ruled the region between 14th and 17th centuries.

The fort was further established as the principal capital of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, a Persian Shiite dynasty that took over the reins of the region after the collapse of Bahmani Sultanate.

The fort saw further prominence under the Qutub Shahi dynasty and converted the fort into a massive granite fort extending 5km in circumference, as per the government.

The Golconda Fort turned into ruins following an eight-month siege by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, after the reign of Qutub Shahis ended in 1687.

The emperor took the last Golconda king Abul Hassan Tana Shah captive and conquered the fort, intentionally leading it to ruins.

The fort came under the rule of Nawab Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last ruler of Hyderabad, who was dethroned after New Delhi invaded the princely state following the withdrawal of the British from the Indian subcontinent in 1947.

Diamond trading centre

The erstwhile Golconda fort town was the world’s most prominent diamond centre, as it was believed to be the only place in the world where diamonds were mined, before mining began in Africa.

The diamond industry had been established at the time of Kakatiyas and peaked during the Qutub Shahi dynasty when there were more than two dozen mines in the region, including the Kollur mines, where one of the most popular and expensive diamonds, the Koh-i-Noor, was mined, according to renowned historian William Dalrymple.

Koh-i-Noor, meaning “Mountain of Light” in Persian, is believed to be originally about 158 carats uncut, and worth $591 million.

It was never bought or sold and travelled through several Indian dynasties, including the Turco-Afghan Khilji, the Mughals, the Persians, the Afghans and the Sikh rulers, before ending up with the British colonial empire, and is kept at the Tower of London.

Other diamonds that were mined from Kollur are the Hope Diamond – the 45.52-carat blue diamond, the Daria-i-noor or Sea of Light pink diamond, which is one of the largest cut diamonds, weighing an estimated 182 carats, and the Dresden Green, a natural 41-carat green diamond, among others.

The diamonds were kept at the vaults of the Golconda Fort, Mr Kareem said.

“The Kollur mine was 180 kilometres away. The diamonds that were mined were brought to this fort. Koh-i-Noor was kept at the vaults of this fort. It was brought here in the 16th century. It was later taken by Aurangzeb,” he said.


The 120m high Golconda Fort rests on a granite hill surrounded by huge crenulated ramparts.

The walls of the fort range from 17 to 34 feet, broken by 87 semi-circular bastions, some reaching 60 feet in height, and built on a granite hill that is 400 feet high.

It boasts numerous majestic halls, royal apartments, armouries, audience chambers, a mosque, a temple, and a stable. There are eight gateways, but only the eastern gate – the biggest – is open for tourists.

There is also a Fatah or Victory Gate that was used by Aurangzeb’s army to march successfully to the fort.

One of the major engineering features of the fort is the acoustical effects of clapping hands near the dome entrance that creates a reverberation and is clearly heard at the hilltop pavilion, about one kilometre away. It was used as a warning system.

“Every day more than 10,000 people visit the fort. The main gate has a wall which is a screen wall. It used to confuse the enemies as they could not see the fort if entered,” Mr Kareem said.

“There are four wells, two prisons, and a granary where the kings used to donate grains to people before Ramadan. There is also a dressing room for women and a mosque."

Updated: April 26, 2024, 6:13 PM