The Taj Mahal is a huge mausoleum complex built in 1632 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to bury the remains of his beloved wife. Built over a period of 20 years on the south bank of the Yamuna River in Agra, India, this prestigious complex is a striking example of Mughal architecture. It was a combination of Indian, Persian, and Islamic influences. In the center is the Taj Mahal, made of shiny white marble that appears to change color with daylight. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, it is one of the world’s most prestigious structures and a marvelous symbol of India’s rich history. Named the Taj Mahal in honor of Mumtaz, the tomb is made of white marble and semi-precious stones (including jade, crystal, lapis lazuli, amethyst, and turquoise) with intricate designs by Pietro Dura.
Its central sphere reaches a height of 240 feet (73 m) and is surrounded by four small spheres. Four thin towers, or minarets, stood at the corner. In accordance with Islamic tradition, in addition to many other parts of the complex, the arched doors to the tomb are inscribed with the words of the Qur’an. Inside the tomb is an octagonal marble chamber adorned with carvings and semi-precious stones, or the mausoleum or forged tomb on Mumtaz Mahal. Below is the actual sarcophagus garden level containing her real remains.
Other areas of the Taj Mahal complex include the main entrance made of red sandstone and a square garden with long swimming pools, as well as a red sand church and a similar building known as the Jawab (or “mirror”). The traditional Mughal building training here allows no future modifications to the complex. According to legend, Shah Jahan intended to build a second Great Tomb Tower across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal to bury his body when he died. The two constructions were to be connected by a bridge. In fact, Aurangzeb (Shah Jahan’s third son with Mumtaz Mahal) overthrew his ill father in 1658 and seized power. Shah Jahan spent the last days of his life under house arrest at the Red Fort Tower in Agra. He looked at the marvelous restroom he had built for his wife, and when he died in 1666, he was buried next to her.
Under Aurangzeb’s long reign (1658-1707) the Mughal Empire reached its zenith. However, his militant Muslim policies, including the destruction of many Hindu temples and shrines, shattered the lasting power of the empire and led to its demise by the middle of the 18th century.
Despite the decline of Mughal power, the Taj Mahal suffered from neglect and dilapidation for two centuries after Shah Jahan’s death. Around the beginning of the 19th century, Lord Curzon, then Vice-Chancellor of the United Kingdom of India, ordered the renovation of the tomb complex as part of a colonial effort to preserve the artistic and cultural heritage of India. Today, about 3 million people (or about 45,000 a day during the peak tourist season) visit the Taj Mahal each year. Air pollution from nearby factories and vehicles poses a continuing threat to the gleaming white marble facade of the tomb, and in 1998 the Supreme Court of India ordered a number of anti-corruption measures to protect the building from deterioration. Some factories were closed and traffic was banned near the complex.