The Jami Masjid of Firuzabad is the largest single structure within the ruined city of Firuzabad. Built by the eighth Bahmanid sultan Taj al-Din Firuz Shah (reg. 1397-1422) in 1400, Firuzabad was laid out on the East bank of the river Bhima, with its fortifications enclosing an area of approximately 1200 square meters. The city is located 30 kilometers south of Gulbarga, the then-capital city of the Bahmanids that had been well established since the late fourteenth century.
Textual sources have referred to Firuzabad as a pleasure resort for the sultan, but recent scholarship has asserted its use as a military encampment as well. The city occupied an important location en route to Vijayanagar, the capital city of the rival Hindu kingdom in the south. The enormous size of the Jami Masjid in the city, which is almost twice the size of the mosque in Gulbarga, has further been explained as a requirement to accommodate the army of faithful on campaign.
Firuzabad became the new residence for the sultan, his family, and his treasury. The palace complex was situated on its western periphery overlooking the river with the Jami Masjid located just outside, to the south of its east gate. Completed in 1406, the Jami Masjid is based on a rectangular courtyard plan with a double-height prayer hall towards the west. Apart from its peripheral walls, the entire mosque is in ruins, and its courtyard has been appropriated as farmland. A number of houses in the nearby town of Firuzabad have also been built of pillaged stones from the site.
The decline of the city began almost immediately after the death of its patron in 1422. Although it maintained its significance as a pilgrimage site, the mosque remained unknown to scholars until as late as 1954, when it was first photographed. It was only in 1985 that systematic documentation and study were carried out by George Michell.
The Jami Masjid enclosure measures 104.5 meters by 61.5 meters (343 feet by 202 feet) with its longitudinal axis running along the east-west direction. The enclosure is divided into nineteen by thirteen bays. The now-collapsed prayer hall located along the west (qibla) wall consisted of five bays and ran the entire width of the mosque. There appears to have been a gallery built within the double-height prayer hall, probably for women of the royal family, measuring three by two bays located in its northwest corner. The courtyard preceding the prayer hall consists of the remaining fourteen bays and is defined by a peripheral wall on three sides. The main entrance to the mosque courtyard is through a domed gateway located in the middle of the east wall. There are also two smaller entrance gateways located on each of the north and south peripheral walls.
Inside the prayer hall, the west wall of the mosque contains the mihrab at its center with stone steps of the minbar to its immediate north. This wall is shared with the palace complex and contains two strategically located doorways. The first, located directly behind the minbar and piercing through the west wall, was probably provided for access to the sultan during the Friday prayer and sermon. The second, a doorway leading into a staircase built into the northwest corner of the prayer hall, would have provided similar access for the women of the royal family to the gallery above.
The main entrance gateway in the east wall of the courtyard enclosure consists of a square chamber that projects outside of the enclosure wall and contains 3 arched openings, one in the center of each of its three sides. Passing through this gateway, one arrives the courtyard of the mosque. From within the courtyard, the gateway in the east wall is rectangular. The walls of the gateway are built in coursed stone masonry and clad in finely cut basalt. The three entrance archways, as well as the fourth rectangular doorway, are each framed by three recessed round arches supported on triple pilasters carved in basalt. The entire structure is capped with a shallow dome raised on a short drum. The interior walls of the chamber are also completely dressed in basalt, with arched squinches at the four corners supporting the plastered dome above.
On either side of this entrance gateway, the east peripheral wall of the mosque contains four bays of arched openings that provide a glimpse of the courtyard within. Each bay contains a large angular, pointed arch framed within a recessed rectangle, of which the spandrel contains circular medallions crafted in plaster. From the courtyard side, a smaller arched opening is recessed within each larger arch. The recess occupies almost the entire thickness of the peripheral wall, forming an alcove-like space within each bay.
The entrances in the north and south walls contain larger arched openings and rise slightly higher than the wall. All four archways are framed on either side by cylindrical, fluted finials with bulbous tops. The walls rise to a height of approximately four and a half meters capped by a protruding band composed of a sawtooth course sandwiched between two plain, corbelled courses. The parapet above consists of rounded crenellations or merlons.
The mosque walls are massive, built mostly in the same coursed stone masonry put together with mud-based mortar and containing an infill of loose blocks or rubble earth. The west wall is comparatively simple, each internal bay consisting of arched recesses, while those walls supporting the gallery in the northwest corner have two storys of recessed arched bays with shallow arched niches. The west wall also contains the stubs of broken arches and domes that spanned the prayer hall. The structure of the prayer hall that can only be partially understood; it included a series of squared bays supported on massive square piers. Angled arches spanned the distance between these piers in both directions, above which a combination of domes and pyramidical or pointed vaults were supported on a small corbels and arched squinches. The kind of arches and corbelling remaining on the wall, as well as the broken fallen pieces, suggest that the prayer hall itself was roofed by a series of small domes supported on piers, although it's not fully clear from the remains of the structure.
Most of the Jami Masjid was finished in plaster, while finely finished basalt stone was used to clad important spaces or construction elements like gates, piers or brackets. The mihrab niche in the west wall, constructed as a pointed arch with a half dome at the rear, is faced with basalt. There is no carved ornamentation. Even considering its state of partial dilapidation, the mosque appears to have been sparsely ornamented. Arches are lined with bands of plaster and their spandrels contain round plaster medallions. Foliate motifs adorn the arch apexes. The domes, fluted on the interior, rest on short bases containing friezes of foliate forms.
According to scholars, Firuzabad may have been the first planned palace city of the Deccan, with the Jami Masjid of Firuzabad amongst the largest in the Deccan and the only one of its kind in the Indian subcontinent.
Alfieri, Bianca Maria. Islamic Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. London: Laurence King, 2000. 42-43.
Haig, Thomas Wolseley. Historic Landmarks of the Deccan. Allahabad: Pioneer Press, 1907. 88-112.
Michell, George and Richard Eaton. Firuzabad: Palace City of the Deccan. London: Oxford University Press, 1992. 7-17, 30-34.
Michell, George and Zebrowski, Mark. Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates. Vol. 1:7 of The New Cambridge History of India. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 4-10, 26-32, 69-74.