The Taj Mahal is one of the most splendid pieces of architecture in the world. It was built by the 5th Mogul emperor of India, Shah Jahan, as a mausoleum to his beloved wife Ar-ju-mand Banu Begum, a Muslim Persian princess better known by her other name, Mumtaz Mahal, which means, the Distinguished of the Palace. The couple met in 1607, when he was 15, and he fell in love, although they weren't married until 1612 when she became his second wife. She was his companion on all his journeys and military expeditions. It was on one of his expeditions when giving birth to their 14th child that she died. Overpowered by grief, Shah Jahan resolved to immortalize the memory of his beloved wife by building the finest sepulchre ever built; which was to become a monument to eternal love.
The Taj Mahal is in fact an architectural complex and not just the one building. It stands in a formally laid-out walled garden entered through a pavilion and comprises of five main elements: The Mausoleum (which is what most people know as the Taj Mahal) with four minarets, a Mosque, a Rest House or the Response placed opposite to give it symmetry, the main Gateway and the garden. All were built as integral part of a single unit, carefully planned to harmonise, as a law of Islam decrees that once a tomb is completed nothing can be added or be taken away.
The mausoleum stands on a raised platform (186 feet square) with its four corners truncated, forming an unequal octagon. The mausoleum is constructed of brick and covered with white marble. Its central dome is 58 feet in diameter and rises to a height of 213 feet and is flanked by four subsidiary domed chambers. At the side of the Mausoleum are four detached minarets rising from the plinth, these are 138 feet high. They were built out of plumb, slanting so that if they were to topple, they would fall away from the Taj. They also form a visual framework to the Taj and enhance the symmetry of the building.
The interior is beautifully decorated with carvings and semi precious inlaid stones and at the centre is the room with the tombs. The tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal are actually located in a burial crypt below, above them; in the main chamber are false tombs, a common practice in mausoleums built during the Mughal period. These lie in the centre of the room which is surrounded by a marble screen. The tomb of Shah Jahan is the only asymmetrical thing in the Taj which indicates that the original plans for the mausoleum did not include Shah Jahan's cenotaph. The entire mausoleum - inside and outside - is decorated with inlaid design of flowers and calligraphy using semi precious gems such as agate and jasper. The designs are inlaid into the marble using the process known as Pietre Dura.
To the west of the mausoleum on a plinth stands the Mosque which is made from red sandstone and measures 210 feet in length and 90 feet in width.It has a marble facing which provides a contrast of colours and has one dominant portal, with smaller portals on each side.Opposite is The Rest House which is a mirror of the mosque.
From its inception in 1631 it took 22 years to complete and nearly bankrupted the nation. In 1658 Shah Jahan was deposed by his son and imprisoned in the Red Fort where he was only able look at the Taj; he was never allowed to visit it again. He remained in the Red Fort until his death in 1666 when he was interred in the Taj next to Mumtaz.
The Red Fort dates back to the 10th century when it started as a simple mud and brick fortress on the banks of the River Yamuna. When Akbar – who was to become known as Akbar the Great (1564-1570) chose Agra as the capital of the Mughal empire, he set about rebuilding the fortress and followed the lines of its original layout, something that accounts for the irregular semi-circle shape of the outer bastioned walls. Started in 1565, it took eight years to build and was one of the largest fortified residences of the Mughal Empire, with over 500 buildings.
Surrounded by a double wall of red sandstone it consisted of battlements, towers and bastions and a wide moat. The outer wall is 40 feet high while the inner one is 70 feet high, all of which make it a formidable fortress. It was the use of red sandstone, which led to it being known as the Red Fort. Entry was gained by four gateways, the Delhi Gate, to the west, was the main entrance to the fort, this lead to the inner gate called the Hathi Pol or Elephant Gate. The gate to the south, the Amar Singh Gate or Akbar Darwazah is used by visitors to the fort today. These gates have drawbridges and are flanked by twin towers with entry being diagonally, requiring visitors to negotiate several right-angled turns before reaching the gate, a design that was intended to make it difficult for attackers to gain entry. The other two gates are no longer used, one on the north east side of the fortress and theJal Darwazah or Water Gate, which was a private gate for the women facing the river.
Although the complex was originally designed as a fortress; it was partially converted into a palace (mahal) during the reign of Shah Jahan (1627-58). Shah Jahan, who was renowned for his construction work, built many of the residential buildings. Although the earliest of these dwellings, the Jahangiri Mahal, was built by Akbar as a palace for his women. The fortress in fact contains a number of palaces, mainly constructed during the reign of Shah Jehan, which was the golden period of Mughal architecture. It was during his reign that red sandstone was replaced by marble and Persian architecture became prominent in India.The Khas Mahal, the palace of Shah Jehan was the private rooms of the emperor. It overlooked the Anguri Bagh or the garden of grapes which he built in 1637. This was designed as a pleasant retreat for the royal ladies and to ensure their privacy. Surrounding the garden were the rooms of red sandstone built by Akbar for the imperial women attendants. Jehangiri Mahal built from 1565 to 1569, is a beautiful example of Mughal architecture. It has an impressive façade with an arched portal, a series of ornamental arches and an octagonal tower on each side.
Other buildings to be seen are the Diwan-I-Am or Hall of Public Audience which was constructed between the years of 1631 and 1640, as the place where the emperor addressed his subjects. The large assembly hall measures 201 feet by 67 feet having a flat roof and two arched red sandstone gateways to the north and south. The façade has an arcade with nine arches while the hall is divided into three aisles. It gives the appearance of being constructed in white marble although it is actually constructed in red sandstone and plastered with white shell plaster to resemble marble. The Machchi Bhawan or the Fish Chamber is believed to have been used to house gold fish for the emperor, with the rooms of the lower floor serving as the treasury. The stucco relief work is beautifully executed with the space between the stone brackets of the upper storey forming exquisitely moulded designs giving it the appearance of chiselled marble.
The Diwan-i-Khas or Hall of Private Audience was constructed in 1635 to be used by the emperor as a reception hall for important guests and for affairs the state. Open on three sides, with five arched openings which are supported on double columns. The chambers were decorated with exquisite inlay work in floral patterns on the borders of the dados and with relief carvings.
The antechamber of the Shish Mahal or the Chamber of Mirrors has steps leading to the Muthamman Burj, the double storied octagonal tower built by Shah Jehan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.Musamman Burj is believed to have been built as the palace of Mumtaz Mahal. Built between the years of 1631 to 1640 it offers views of the Taj Mahal, which he built as the mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal. It was the only view he was allowed of the Taj after he was imprisoned in the fort by his son Aurungzeb and it was here where he was to remain until his death.
The Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daula’s is in the city of Agra a short distance from the Taj Mahal (see above). It is more commonly known as the ‘Baby Taj’ as it is thought to have been the model for the Taj Mahal, although it is also referred to as the 'jewel box'.
The Tomb was built between 1622 and 1628 as the mausoleum of Mirza Ghiyas Beg, the chief treasurer under the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, who gave him the title of 'I'timad-ud-Daulah', which means 'Pillar of the State'. The mausoleum was commissioned for Mirza Ghiyas Beg by his daughter Begum Nur Jahan, the wife of Emperor Jahangir.Mirza Ghiyas Beg son Abdul Hasan Asaf Khan was the father of Arjumand Banu Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of the Emperor Shah Jahan and for whom the Taj Mahal was built. Although Begum Nur Jahan was the twentieth wife of Emperor Jahangir, she was his favourite and the true ‘power behind the throne,’ and due to Jehangir’s addictions to alcohol and opium it was she who ruled India.
The Tomb represents a transition in monumental Mughal architecture between the construction from red sandstone with marble decorations, to those of white marble decorated with pietra dura inlay. The walls of the Tomb are of white and coloured marble encrusted with semi-precious stone decorations. These take the form of cypress trees, wine bottles, fruit or vases containing bouquets. Light enters the building through screens intricately carved from white marble.
Covering an area of approximately twenty-three square meters the mausoleum is built on a base about fifty square metres and about one metre high. It rests in a garden with water courses and pathways, all of which are adjacent to the bank of the Yamuna River. At each corner is a hexagonal tower approximately thirteen meters tall. Around the mausoleum are a number of other buildings providing a gateway and rest houses similar to those that can be seen at the Taj Mahal.
Although built for Mirza Ghiyas Beg many of his relatives are also interred in the mausoleum. The whole complex is symmetrical with the exception of the cenotaphs for him and his wife which have been set side-by-side.