What is the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built between 1631 and 1653 in the city of Agra, India, near the Yamuna River. Famous for immortalizing one of the most important love stories known, it has also been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 and has been on the list of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World since 2007.

The mausoleum was built by order of Emperor Shah Jahan in honor of the memory of his favorite wife, Arjumand Banu Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal. It represents both the vision of the Islamic spiritual life of the monarch and his wife, and the symbol of love made of devotion, which only a monarch can materialize.

such a mahal

Taj Mahal. Notice the open bays in the facade, called iwanes. The flanking structures at the corners are minarets. The roof is crowned with five domes (one main), each surmounted by a finial.

The name Taj Mahal means “crown of palaces”. The mausoleum stands out among other similar constructions for having been constructed of white marble and precious stones, defying the tradition that funerary monuments were made of red sandstone. But also, aesthetically, it is a synthesis of Arab, Indian, Mongolian, Persian and Western elements.

The influence of Mongolian architecture is seen in the use of minarets and towers. From Persian architecture, the Taj Mahal inherits symmetry, the central garden, the dome and the I won (vaulted rectangular base space with an arch, closed on three sides and open on one).

Of Hindu influence, he applies the colonnade of blind arcades to the interior walls. From the West, he inherited the technique of marble relief and hard stone (inlay of precious stones). Finally, from the Arabs, he applies calligraphy, abstract motifs and a dualistic conception of space (terrestrial world/spiritual world).

Features of the Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

1. Mosque. 2. Mausoleum. 3.Jawab. 4. Central garden. 5. Fort or Darwaza and subsidiary tombs. 6. Front door. Photograph by Yosanon Yingyuenyong.

The Taj Mahal covers an area of ​​580 meters long by 305 meters wide. Its design is divided into three main parts: to the north, the mausoleum and its adjoining structures. In the center, the gardens, and to the south, the entrance.

Two additional sections can also be considered: the Moonlight Garden, located on the other side of the Yamuna River, and the old Grand Bazaar.


Taj Mahal

1. Moonlit garden. 2. The terrace (Mausoleum, Mosque and Jawab). 3. Charbagh garden with pavilions. 4. The jilaukhana (includes Darwaza and two subsidiary tombs). 5. Taj Ganji, once a bazaar.

This architectural complex includes different structures. To know:

Mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal: main part of the complex. Its plan is square. The walls are identical and its corners have an arch of 33 meters, with inscriptions from the Koran.

The mausoleum is crowned by a dome 4 meters high and 40 meters in diameter, surmounted in turn by a water of 17.1 meters. The dome is surrounded by four octagonal towers.

Mosque: temple in red sandstone, and is crowned by three domes. It flanks the main mausoleum on the west side. Its dimensions are 60 meters long and 30 meters wide. It is a place of worship.

Jawab (answer): flanks the mausoleum on the east side. It is a symmetrical structure that mirrors the mosque. For this reason, it is also made of red sandstone, its dimensions are 60 x 30 meters and it is crowned with three domes. But its use is different: it was perhaps a house of pilgrims. It is believed that it could also have been built to achieve the architectural symmetry of the complex.

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Fort or Darwaza: It is located at the main entrance. It is built of marble and is of Mongolian inspiration, as evidenced by the four minarets that flank the fort complex.

Secondary graves: section intended to house the bodies of the Emperor’s other wives and an additional tomb for Mumtaz’s servant. They are located next to the fort.

Gardens: they are a representation of life in the afterlife. The central garden has four canals which symbolize the four rivers of paradise. The pond was made for the purpose of reflecting the mausoleum. Across the Yamuna River is the Garden of Moonlight, through which the emperor took the boat to enter the complex. Towards the opposite side, the entrance garden, which once bordered the bazaar.

Decoration of the Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

1. Arabic calligraphy. 2. Geometric patterns in the secondary tomb. 3. Top of the dome. 4. Floral decoration with stone inlays (hard stone). 5. Marble relief. 6. Iwan with various decorative patterns.

The decoration of the Taj Mahal is distinguished by its sumptuousness. Marble reliefs, encrusted with precious stones in the rock (hard stone), and all kinds of techniques are used both internally and externally. Among the gemstones used are lapiz lazuli, sapphires, agate, turquoise, etc.

There are geometric patterns, as well as flowers throughout the building. It is also worth noting the use of Arabic calligraphy with inscriptions from the Koran.

The Taj Mahal inside

Taj Mahal

Inside the Taj Mahal.

The interior spaces of the Taj Mahal are extremely rich in decoration, like the rest of the complex, but the details are much more abundant.

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In these spaces are the cenotaphs or tombs in which rest the monarch and his wives. Emperor Jahan was buried in the main cenotaph where Mumtaz Mahal is located. As this was not part of the original project, you can see how the symmetry was broken by including the Monarch’s Cenotaph (see image above).

History of the Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Emperor Sha Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal.

Arjumand Banu Begum, from a noble Persian family in the city of Agra, married Emperor Shah Jahan at the age of 19.

With the marriage, Arjumand Banu Begum became part of the retinue of the Muslim Emperor’s wives. Jahan was madly in love, so he gave her the title Mumtaz Mahal, which means “chosen one of the palace”, made her his main adviser and always carried her with him.

The couple had thirteen children. But a final delivery, which occurred while he was accompanying the emperor on an expedition, cost Mumtaz Mahal his life.

On her deathbed, Mumtaz Mahal made her husband promise to build a mausoleum for her, which he did. Jahan has embarked on a million dollar business.

Many names of architects, craftsmen and artists have participated in this work. Among some of them we can mention:

  • Design: Ustad Isa and Isa Muhammad Effendi.
  • Dome: Ismail Khan.
  • Floret of the dome: Qazim Khan.
  • Chief sculptor and mosaic coordinator: Chiranjilal.
  • Calligraphy: Amanat Khan of Shiraz.
  • Masonry foreman: Muhammad Hanif.

With these names and others, more than twenty thousand workers also worked. But Jahan’s project plunged the empire into an economic crisis of such magnitude that it even caused a famine. Jahan’s son had to rise up against him and dethrone him.

Jahan, now defeated, was held in Red Fort until 1666, when he died. His remains are in the mausoleum next to Mumtaz Mahal.