Agra, Taj Mahal
Agra, Taj Mahal, from the tank, very early morning (6.55 AM)
The Taj Mahal (from Persian and Arabic, "crown of palaces") is a white marble mausoleum located on the southern bank of the Yamuna River in the Indian city of Agra. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (reigned 1628–1658) to house the tomb of his favorite wife of three, Mumtaz Mahal.
Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for an additional ten years. The Taj Mahal complex is believed to have been completed in its entirety in 1653 at a cost estimated at the time to be around 32 million Indian rupees, which in 2015 would be valued at around 52.8 billion Indian rupees ($827 million US). The construction project employed around 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. The domed marble tomb is part of an integrated complex consisting of gardens and two red-sandstone buildings surrounded by a crenellated wall on three sides.
The Taj Mahal is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and is widely recognized as "the jewel of Muslim art in India". It is one of the world’s most celebrated structures and a symbol of India’s rich history. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, the Taj Mahal attracts some 3 million visitors a year. On 7 July 2007 it was declared one of the Seven winners of New7Wonders of the World (2000–2007) initiative in Lisbon.
The tomb is the central focus of the entire complex of the Taj Mahal. It is a large, white marble structure standing on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building with an iwan (an arch-shaped doorway) topped by a large dome and finial. Like most Mughal tombs, the basic elements are Persian in origin.
The base structure is a large multi-chambered cube with chamfered corners forming an unequal eight-sided structure that is approximately 55 metres on each of the four long sides. Each side of the iwan is framed with a huge pishtaq or vaulted archway with two similarly shaped arched balconies stacked on either side. This motif of stacked pishtaqs is replicated on the chamfered corner areas, making the design completely symmetrical on all sides of the building. Four minarets frame the tomb, one at each corner of the plinth facing the chamfered corners. The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; the actual graves are at a lower level.
The most spectacular feature is the marble dome that surmounts the tomb. The dome is nearly 35 metres high which is close in measurement to the length of the base, and accentuated by the cylindrical "drum" it sits on which is approximately 7 metres high. Because of its shape, the dome is often called an onion dome or amrud (guava dome). The top is decorated with a lotus design which also serves to accentuate its height. The shape of the dome is emphasized by four smaller domed chattris (kiosks) placed at its corners, which replicate the onion shape of the main dome. Their columned bases open through the roof of the tomb and provide light to the interior. Tall decorative spires (guldastas) extend from edges of base walls, and provide visual emphasis to the height of the dome. The lotus motif is repeated on both the chattris and guldastas. The dome and chattris are topped by a gilded finial which mixes traditional Persian and Hindustani decorative elements.
The main finial was originally made of gold but was replaced by a copy made of gilded bronze in the early 19th century. This feature provides a clear example of integration of traditional Persian and Hindu decorative elements. The finial is topped by a moon, a typical Islamic motif whose horns point heavenward.
The minarets, which are each more than 40 metres tall, display the designer's penchant for symmetry. They were designed as working minarets — a traditional element of mosques, used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each minaret is effectively divided into three equal parts by two working balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb. The chattris all share the same decorative elements of a lotus design topped by a gilded finial. The minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth so that in the event of collapse, a typical occurrence with many tall constructions of the period, the material from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb.