Rising along the banks of the River Jamuna in the Indian city of Agra, the Taj Mahal is now one of the most photographed buildings of our time.
Built in the early 17th century by the Emperor Shah Jahan it was a tribute to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz was the emperor's inseparable companion on all his journeys and military expeditions. In 1630 she was accompanying her husband on a military campaign in Burhanpur in the Deccan when she went into labour and died giving birth to their fourteenth child. Overcome with grief, Jahan decided he would perpetuate her memory by building a fantastic mausoleum.
Jahan was from the Mughal dynasty of Muslim emperors who ruled in India from 1526 to 1858. The Mughals built many fine buildings and had a very distinctive style as they were descendants of Timur and the Mongol (in Persian Mughal) conqueror Genghis Khan. Their architectural style was a blend of the Persian patterns brought by the Mongols and the indigenous craftsmanship.
Construction took 22 laborious years and the combined effort of over 20,000 workmen and a fleet of 1,000 elephants. Renowned Islamic architect Ustad Isa and his pupil Ustad Ahmad designed the building, with Ahmad designing the central dome. It is alleged that on completion of the Taj, the right hand of the chief mason was cut off so the structure could never be replicated.
The white marble Taj is set on a 6m high, 104m2 platform. At each corner of the platform is a 44m high minaret. The main dome is 19m in diameter and rises 63m above the platform. Under the dome are the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. Although the tombs are beneath the dome, the bodies of Jahan and his wife are buried underground in a vault .
A characteristic of Mughal style was to inlay buildings with precious stones. Inside the Taj, the pure white marble walls are intricately inlaid with agates, bloodstones, jaspers and other exotic stones. In parts, every 300mm of decorative element contains more than 50 gems.
The exquisite design meant that the Taj Mahal was an expensive project. It was thought to have cost 32M rupees and almost bankrupted the country. Towards the end of his life Shah Jahan announced plans to construct an identical black Taj on the other side of the Jamuna, his eldest son Aurangzeb stopped him and imprisoned him in the Red Fort in Agra. It is said that Jahan lived out the rest of his days in an octagonal room facing the Taj Mahal so that he could see his wife's tomb.