As you approach the famous Taj Mahal of India, your eyes will be drawn up to the incredible white dome which rises in the center, flanked on each side by more white domes and surrounded by incredible white towers. The construction of this splendid building was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jana as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is an early example, perhaps the first, of Mughal architecture, and is a masterpiece combination of Turkish, Indian, Persian, and Islamic architectural styles. It was designed by an entire team of designers to create, and was not completed until 1648, long after Mumtaz Mahal died during the birth of their fourteenth child. The gardens and outbuildings of the Taj Mahal were not completed until five years later.
Even the outer sections of the Taj Mahal are incredible to look upon, including the gardens, which are a traditional charbagh, which is a formal garden of the Mughal period, divided into four parts. The four parts are divided by raised pathways, which further divide each quarter of the garden into 16 sunken flowerbeds. These are kept watered with a raised marble water tank, situated at the center of the gardens at the halfway point between the tomb itself and the gateway.
There is also the unforgettable reflecting pool on the North-South axis, designed to reflect the Taj Mahal. Throughout the rest of the garden are fountains and avenues of trees. The original landscaping of the garden is said to have included vegetation such as fruit trees, daffodils and roses all over the gardens, however as the keeping of the grounds declined, the plant life began to die back. When the British took over the management of the property, they changed the formal gardens to more closely resemble the landscaping of the formal lawns of London.
Three sides of the Taj Mahal are bounded by red sandstone walls, with the side that faces the river being unwalled. Outside the walls are several other mausoleums including those of several of this other wives and a tomb for Mumtaz's favorite servant. Within the gardens are several additional outbuildings, including the main gateway. This gateway is built of marble, primarily, and the archways of the gateway mimic the archways of the tomb.
To the east and west of the tomb, two red sandstone buildings of a grand nature open to the sides of the tomb, and are precise mirror images of one another. These two buildings are a mosque and a mirror of the mosque, used primarily to balance the architecture and probably functional as a guesthouse.
The central focus of the entire compound is, of course, the tomb itself. This white marble structure, topped with an amazing dome and a beautiful finial, stands on a square plinth. It is a large structure, and has several chambers including the monuments to Mumtaz and Shah Jahan, with the actual remains residing on the story below. Four minarets or towers stand at each corner of the plinth to frame the tomb.
This incredible building was completed with the aid of a complex pulley system because of the huge blocks of marble, which according to historical accounts took teams of twenty or thirty oxen to pull on specially constructed carts or wagons. The scaffolding for the building was constructed of brick instead of bamboo, and while the designers lamented the time that it would take to deconstruct the scaffolding, legend has it that Shah Jahan decreed that anyone could take bricks from the scaffolding and keep them, leading to the deconstruction of the entire scaffolds overnight by peasants.
Today, the Taj Mahal attracts approximately two to three million visitors each year, with about 200,000 of them arriving from abroad to see this marvelous structure. The Taj Mahal is easily the most popular tourist destination in India, and has been included in a more modern version of the Seven Wonders of the World.
There are many myths that surround the Taj Mahal, including the myth that a mirror building to be known as the Black Taj was to be built across the river, supported by the ruins of black marble that can be found there. This myth is insubstantial, however, since the supposed black marble is actually just white marble that had been discolored completely to black.
Another myth propagated about the Taj Mahal states that the workmen and craftsmen who worked on this incredible and beautiful building were killed in gruesome manners or otherwise mutilated or dismembered by Shah Jahan to keep them from ever building a similar building, however this too seems to have no historical basis in fact. Many of the most famous buildings in the world have similar stories in association with them.
Tourism to this building is high for a great reason – the Taj Mahal is an architectural masterpiece, and is arguable one of the most beautiful buildings in the entire world. It was created, so the stories say, out of a deep and binding love and has withstood several centuries, several wars, and a decline into disrepair to remain standing intact as one of the architectural masterpieces of the world. The Taj Mahal is worth a visit for anyone interested in seeing such beauty and wonder first hand. Anyone who has been and who has seen the Taj Mahal will likely tell you that the trip is well worth it, and the building and grounds are a wonder that have withstood the test of time so far.