What Happened To Cities Under Colonial Rule

Colonialism and The Story of the Imperial Capital of Class 8

  1. Life in the countryside changed after the establishment of British power. But changes in the cities were not the same. In most parts of the Western world modern cities emerged with industrialisation. In Britain, industrial cities like Leeds and Manchester grew rapidly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as more and more people sought jobs, housing and other facilities in these places. However, unlike Western Europe, Indian cities did not expand as rapidly in the nineteenth century.
  2. In the late eighteenth century, Calcutta, Bombay and Madras rose in importance as Presidency cities. They became the centres of British power in the different regions of India. Old trading centres and ports could not survive when the flow of trade moved to new centres. Earlier centres of regional power collapsed and new centres of administration emerged. This process is often described as de­urbanisation.
  3. Cities such as Machlipatnam, Surat and Seringapatam were deurbanised during the nineteenth century. By the early twentieth century, only 11 per cent of Indians were living in cities.


  • Delhi has been a capital for more than a 1000 years, although with some gaps. As many as 14 capital cities were founded in a small area of about 60 square miles on the left bank of the river Jamuna.
  • The most splendid capital of all was built by Shahjahanabad which was begun in 1639 and consisted of a fort-palace complex and the city adjoining it. Lal Qila or the Red Fort, made of red sandstone, contained the palace complex. To its west lay the Walled City with 14 gates. The main streets of Chandni Chowk and Faiz Bazaar were broad enough for royal processions to pass. A canal ran down the centre of Chandni Chowk. Set amidst densely packed mohallas and several dozen bazaars, the Jama Masjid was among the largest and grandest mosques in India. There was no place higher than this mosque within the city then. Delhi during Shah Jahan's time was also an important centre of Sufi culture. It had several dargahs, khanqahs and idgahs. Open squares, winding lanes, quiet cul-desacs and water channels were the pride of Delhi's residents.
  • Yet, even this was no ideal city and its delights were enjoyed only by some. There were sharp divisions between rich and poor. Havelis or mansions were interspersed with the far more numerous mud house houses of the poor. The colourful world of poetry and dance was usually enjoyed only by men. Furthermore celebrations and processions often led to serious conflicts.
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