Rauza-i munawwara, or the “The Illuminated Tomb” rests tranquilly on the Yamuna River in Agra, India. When you first lay your eyes upon it, it seems the making of a dream– a vision of white marble glittering in the sun like a diamond. It actually takes a few breaths to actually realize you are here, standing before one of the most dazzling works of architecture produced in Mughal India – indeed, in the world. Here are some surprising facts you may not have known about this magnificent marvel.
The most romantic of gestures. Though often called the “Temple of Love,” the Taj Mahal was not built as a temple but as a mausoleum. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had the white marble wonder constructed to entomb his third and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, whose names means “Chosen One of the Palace.”
Emperor of emperors. Shah Jahan was India’s fifth Mughal Emperor, ruling from 1628 to 1658. One of the greatest Mughal rulers, he ushered India into a prosperous Golden Age. Besides the Taj Mahal, he left behind a grand legacy of Mughal architecture, including the Agra Fort, Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi and many other revered buildings.
Labor of love and cash. The Taj Mahal took more than 20 years to build, from 1632 to around 1653. About 20,000 craftsmen and artisans contributed their skill and hard labor. In today’s dollars, it would have cost $340 million.
Breaking the imperial bank. One of Jahan’s sons, believing the building to be an extravagant use of imperial money, jailed his father in the Agra Fort, from where the deposed leader gazed upon the Taj Mahal for the rest of his days. Upon his death, he was entombed beside his wife in the structure he built for her.
Not a surface left untouched. Jahan’s son was right: The Taj Mahal is an extravagant display of Mughal power and ingenuity, and therein lies its ethereal beauty. Every inch of its interior is adorned with calligraphy quoting beautiful verses from the Q’uran, precious gemstones and other elegant inlay, bas-reliefs, imagery of fruits and flowers, intricate Persian patterns and more.
Mughal masterpiece. The perfection of symmetry, the Taj Mahal is considered by architectural historians to be the finest example of the Mughal style there is, referred to by many as the “jewel of Muslim art in India.”
The Crown’s touch. During the era of the British Empire, the English caretakers of the Taj Mahal altered the gardens to resemble the vast lawns found in London parks at the time. They are still in place today.
The Taj in modern wartime. Scaffolding has been erected around the Taj Mahal at least three times in its history: first in 1942 as protection from a Japanese attack by air and again during the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971.
A splendid spread. The Taj Mahal’s vast complex includes a mosque, beautifully manicured gardens of trees and fountains, other mausoleums (for Jahan’s other wives and for his favorite servant) and various outbuildings of equal grandeur.