Over a thousand years ago, King Asha Bhil ruled from Ashavalli, a town on the banks of the Sabarmati River in Gujarat. Lying at the crossroads of many trade routes, the town grew prosperous as time went by. Merchants brought silks from China and perfume from Arabia; taking back fine cotton textiles and spices from India. Years later, Ashavalli was conquered by a ruler named Karnadeva who now called his city Karnavati.
For many decades there was peace until invading armies marched into Gujarat from northern India. Ambitious rulers from Central Asia had traveled thousands of miles through difficult terrain to reach Delhi, where they established their dynasty. In the year 1411 AD, Ahmed Shah, Sultan of Delhi marched through the western India to conquer new kingdoms. The scorching heat and constant fighting left him exhausted. It is said that after a long and tiring day, he and his men halted on the banks of the river Sabarmati, near Karnavati. While resting there, the king saw the most astonishing thing – a rabbit chasing a dog! Impressed by the timid animal’s bravery, the king expanded the city on the river bank and called it Ahmedabad or the “City of Ahmed”. He built a beautiful palace within a large fort that had five darwazas or gates. This fort was called the Bhadra and it still stands in old Ahmedabad.
Nearly a hundred years later, peace in Ahmedabad was threatened by imminent wars with neighbouring kingdoms and the powerful Mughals. To protect his citizens, Ahmedabad’s ruler, grandson of Sultan Ahmed, built a high wall around this city. This wall had sixteen gates that opened out to major roadways, connecting Ahmedabad with far-off trading centers. Today, only a small part of the wall remains. The gates, however, stand tall and are as impressive as ever, unaffected by heavy traffic that passes under their carved arches and balconies.
Sultan Ahmed Shah also built one of the most exquisite places of worship, the Jama Masjid. Its fifteen domes, many carved pillars and a large serene courtyard remain undiminished in beauty. The Mughals and Marathas, who later ruled Ahmedabad, preserved the monuments built by Ahmed Shah.
As Ahmedabad grew in size, the walled city on the eastern banks of the river was unable to shelter an ever-increasing population. Nine bridges were built across the Sabarmati River and the newer part of the city came to be known as New Ahmedabad.
In the early 1800s, the British took over administration. Colleges, offices and houses were built in the colonial style. These were in sharp contrast to the ancient monuments and crowded living quarters in the old town. The landscape of the city was now a rich mixture of Islam, Hindu, Jain and European architecture; its history colorful and noteworthy.
From being a small trading town a millennium ago, Ahmedabad has now become a vibrant metropolis. It is the proud financial and commercial capital of Gujarat, a city where the ancient and modern weave together to create a rich fabric of cultures.