Urban conservation faces challenges in cities that have multiple spatial centers over time, such as Delhi, India, which had seven to seventeen capitals depending on how one counts them. These multicentered cities were partially networked through their waterworks, roads, and related infrastructure in ways that can offer insights into urban history and conservation. The first part of this paper presents the challenges of multicentered cities, and the benefits of taking a historical geographic approach to them. Later sections develop this argument through a case study of Delhi. They proceed from brief consideration of physiographic factors and intangible water heritage to an extended treatment of Delhi’s historical geography. The historical geographic narrative begins with Sultanate waterworks of the twelfth through fifteenth centuries that collected hillslope runoff into tanks (hauz, kund), supplemented by shallow groundwater from wells and stepwells (baolis). A fascinating spatial and technological shift then occurred during the late Sultanate and Mughal period (fifteenth to eighteenth centuries) when the city centers and their waterworks relocated from hillside catchments to the Yamuna riverfront. This process culminated in the Mughal capital of Shahjahanabad where canal networks augmented local well water supplies. The concluding section revisits the challenges of conserving this evolving urban landscape, underscoring the conceptual and methodological contributions of a historical geographic approach.
The full article is available at Project Muse.
Image: Conceptual map of Delhi’s water systems, 2014 (James L. Wescoat Jr.; Google Earth)