Patna, Bihar's capital, is one of the oldest cities in India, dating back to the sixth century BC. Today, however, it shows few signs of its former glory as the centre of the Magadhan and Mauryan empires. A sprawling metropolis hugging the south bank of the Ganges, Patna stretches for around 15km in a shape that has changed little since Ajatasatru (491–459 BC) shifted the Magadhan capital here from Rajgir.
The first Mauryan emperor, Chandragupta, established himself in what was then Pataliputra in 321 BC, and pushed the limits of his empire as far as the Indus; his grandson Ashoka (274–237 BC), one of India's greatest rulers, held sway over even greater domains. To facilitate Indo-Hellenic trade, the Mauryans built a Royal Highway from Pataliputra to Taxila, Pakistan, which later became the Grand Trunk Road, as well as highways to the Bay of Bengal and along the east coast. The city experienced two later revivals. The first Gupta emperor, also named Chandra Gupta, made Patna his capital early in the fourth century AD, and a thousand years later it was rebuilt by Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri (1540–45), who constructed the Sher Shahi Mosque in the east of the city. Nearby, the beautiful gurudwara of Har Mandir was built to honour the birthplace of the tenth and most militant Sikh guru – Guru Gobind Singh. In his honour, the old Patna City quarter is often referred to as Patna Sahib.
At the time of writing, there had been a spate of shootings, robberies and muggings in Patna, and crime was generally on the increase: don't walk around on your own after dark.
Every March the city celebrates its illustrious history with several days of music, dancing and public events during the Pataliputra Mahotsava festival.