The Taj Mahal


The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum located in India, in the city of Agra. The emblematic monument of this country, it is in white marble finely chiseled. It was built between 1631 and 1653 under the command of Shah Jahan in order to shelter the tomb of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth during the delivery of their 14th child. Mumtaz Mahal was also called Arjumand Bano Begum. The Taj Mahal is a marvel of Mughal architecture, at the crossroads of Islamic, Iranian, Persian and Indian styles.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal has been able to pass through history without suffering any particular damage, which makes it possible to admire it nowadays as it was at its construction. If the mausoleum is the best known, it is not necessary to reduce this monument to this marble construction, the Taj Mahal is in fact a set of buildings, gardens, lakes and fountains with perfectly organized symmetry contained in a rectangular ground of 580 by 305 meters. It includes two mosques, one of which is unused because it is not oriented towards Mecca, symmetry obligatory, three Iranian-style gates, three red brick buildings, a central fountain and four bodies of water organized in a cross. The Taj Mahal is visited annually by 4 million visitors, making it the most visited monument in India. It is also the most famous monument in India, and its symbol, such as the Statue of Liberty is for the United States, the Eiffel Tower for France, or the statue of Christ the Redeemer for Brazil.

A symbol of love in marble

Every morning the same moving spectacle repeats itself. At first, shy and then forcefully, the Sun's rays illuminate the powerful monument built on the bank of the Yamunâ: The vague silhouette waiting in the gray calm of the night becomes again the glittering jewel of the Indo-Islamic architecture.

What must have been the emotion of Shah Jahan when he could celebrate the completion of the Taj Mahal! In the year of the death of his favorite wife, Mumtaz-i Mahal, the Mughal Emperor brought several thousand workers from the major centers of Eastern architecture, Lahore, Delhi, Shiraz and Samarkand to achieve this grandiose project. It is believed that the main builder was Imperial architect Ustad Ahmad Lahori. But the name of the true author of the project remains uncertain: Jahan, known for his artistic talents, was perhaps personally the spiritual father. With an extreme ambition, his project was as grandiose as it was expensive; no doubt he wanted to surpass all the marvels of the world of the time.

A Mughal mausoleum must preserve the memory of the deceased and constitute their place of eternal rest, the environment of the Taj Mahal was also designed with the necessary luxury. The wide alleys of the gardens, the immense portals, and the wide alleys reserved for the guests, suggest that the emperor and his court should surround the memory of Mumtaz-i Mahal.

Behind the entrance patio surrounded by arcades pierced by four gates, an idyllic view is offered to the gaze: In the south, a garden divided into four, with marble terrace and central fountain, to the north, on a sandstone terrace 'extending across the width of the garden, the mausoleum and its annexes, a mosque to the west and a meeting hall identical to the east.

The coordination of colors, too, is imprinted with the sense of Indian harmony. The green of the cypresses and flower beds is in harmony with the blue water of the canals and the warm red of the lateral sandstone monument. This grace completes the whiteness enhanced by the colors of the marble mausoleum, according to the remnant principle in the monuments of Jahan: every paroxysm includes a beginning and an end. This is why the mausoleum seems to float in weightlessness. Besides the marble structure that hangs light, the high gates and the vertically aligned side niches reinforce this impression. Finally, the four minarets rising at the corners of the main building enhance the elevation effect. As one guest reported during the inauguration, this ascending effect can be compared to a votive prayer rising to the sky. The mausoleum unites the formal elements that influenced the architecture of northern India in the seventeenth century. Its double dome - its bulbous exterior dome resting on a drum covers an octagonal plane - is of a purely Persian design. In the same way, the facade is defined by the sober unity of geometric form. On the other hand, its "Florentine mosaics", also known as pietra dura - inlaid in the marble of polished semi-precious stones and absence of joints - and the bases of the reliefs, in spite of their Persian motifs, reflect the Indian spirit without context, felted and fairytale.

Like a magnet the mausoleum attracts visitors from all walks of life to Agra. Guards control the access to the main hall connected to four small pavilions. With great respect, the crowd revolves around the perforated marble screen, bordered by inlaid semiprecious stones, behind which one sees the cenotaphs. The remains of Mumtaz-i Mahal are kept safe in the crypt, a floor below.

Next to it is the sarcophagus of Jahan, who never managed to realize the second part of his dream of marble, namely his own mausoleum on the other side of the river. The sick emperor was deposed and imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in 1658. The latter, however, fulfilled his father's wish to have his view of the memory of a white man from his prison at the Red Fort bursting with his great love.

Albrecht G. Schaefer, reprinted from "Les trésors du patrimoine mondial", edition France Loisirs.


Settled in Agra, a medium-sized city in modern India, the Taj Mahal is the finest trace that the Mughal Empire left us. It is a large complex comprising three south-north facing parts which are, respectively, the inner courtyard, serving as an antechamber between the terrestrial world, symbolized by the city, and the second part which are the gardens, an image of Paradise on Earth. The third part, to the north is the most sacred and consists of the famous white mausoleum, a mosque (to its right) and the guest pavilion, a replica of the mosque on the left. The whole is surrounded by a high, protective wall. The inner courtyard and garden is separated by a door, which is here a large rectangular building, the Darwaza-i rauza. The gardens are perfectly symmetrical. They are cut in 4 by two channels which do not join quite in the center (There is a fountain, right in the center). The north part is raised by 7m, accessed by a staircase or a gentle slope, on the sides.

This short description is only an introduction, the full description is below.

Learn more: Description of the Taj Mahal

The reasons for building the Taj Mahal

We all know that the Taj Mahal is a proof of a husband's love for his wife. It would be the tomb that the husband built for his deceased wife much younger than him, and his magnifiscense would correspond to the love she had for him. It's a very nice story, but would not it be a legend?

Well no. The Taj Mahal was built for Mumtaz Mahal, the 3rd wife of the 5th Mughal emperor Shah Jahan , who loved him. When she died on June 17, 1631, when she gave birth to her 14th child, she was buried at Burhanpur, where she died. But this tomb was temporary, it was what had decided Shah Jahan who decided, ravaged by grief, to build to his wife a mausoleum as beautiful as was his love for her. He took 22 years to this task and partially ruined the treasure of the Mughals, but the jewel case lived up to his hopes. The Taj Mahal was born. So this story is real.

On the other hand, what is false is the will to build a 2nd Taj Mahal on the other side of the river, black that one, which would have served as tomb to the emperor. This is false, archaeological research has shown traces of construction, the Mehtab Bagh ("Garden of the Moon"), but it is not a 2nd Taj Mahal. Besides, it would have been impossible to build, the finances of the Empire had been emptied by this first construction.

Learn more: Historical context

The construction

The construction of the Taj Mahal took 22 years, from 1631 to 1653. The last 5 years were devoted to the erection of the gardens, the mausoleum and other buildings were finished. It is attributed to Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, but one does not really know the part he took in this work compared to other architects, because it is attested that there were several. The buildings were built in red sandstone, a very common stone in northern India. The mausoleum is also in sandstone, but covered with marble, hence its white color. In fact the builders played on the contrast between red and white, and on white they encrusted black marble for the inscriptions, making it a very successful set.

The construction was made with 20,000 men who alternated on the construction site. Given the mortality that can be imagined at the time, it means that some craftsmen have spent their entire professional career on this site. They were helped by 1000 elephants that were used to transport heavy loads. Of course, the workers used precise equipment, but the construction techniques were not really noticed, which means that today we do not have precise ideas on these methods of construction.

Learn more: Construction of the Taj Mahal

The decorations

There are three types of decoration in the Taj Mahal: Paintings, which are rare, bas-reliefs, mainly in marble - but not that - and pietra dura, which are precious or semi-precious stone inlays on mineral plates, mainly marble.

If there is not much to say about the paintings, bas-reliefs are engraved in large white marble slabs that have been placed down the walls of the mausoleum mainly, but also from the mosque or the pavilion of the guests. Thus the mausoleum is richly decorated with these bas-reliefs, both inside and outside, under the iwans (these large Persian-style porches). The patterns shown are plants, essentially essentially. There are flowers too, but no animals, let alone representations of any human being.

The pietra dura is a technique of lapidary inlay, it was invented and popularized by the Florentines in the sixteenth century, they are master in this art. At the time of the construction of the Taj Mahal Shah Jahan, who had it built, he called on the Florentine craftsmen to work on the monument, which they did. So these decorations are of Italian origin, really. There are a great many in all the corners of the mosaic, on all the walls, on the balustrade behind which, in the main hall, there are the cenotaphs, even on the cenotaphs themselves. This technique was also used for black marble inscriptions on the facades of the mausoleum, but also for the gateway to the gardens. These inscriptions recall the duty of piety of every good Muslim, gently for the access door, but more demanding for the facades of the mausoleum.

Learn more: Decorations of the Taj Mahal

Learn more: Scriptures on the Taj Mahal

The visits

Nowadays it is possible to visit the Taj Mahal, but it is a rather recent possibility since it was reserved for the Mughal emperors and their relatives from its construction to the fall of the Mughals. And to all those who were in charge of the maintenance of gardens, buildings. But in the modern era, after independence from India, the visit was organized. If it is always questionable to find three separate tariffs (one for Indians, one for nationals of neighboring countries, and one for all the others, therefore western and eastern tourists), it must be admitted that the site is a real haven of peace in which the visitor to the impression of being timeless. Proof that the manufacturers have reached their goal, since 400 years later one arrives at the same sensation that at the beginning, and this despite the flood of tourists that pours every day (except Friday) on the site.

The link below gives information about the Taj Mahal visit, schedules, fares, tips, etc.

Learn more: Visit the Taj Mahal

The mughals

Who were the Mughals? No, they must not be confused with the Mongols, the people of the North of China from which Genghis Khan was born, conquering the lands of Central Asia. The Mughals form a dynasty created by Bashir in the early sixteenth century on the remains of the sultanate of Delhi. Descendant of Tamerlane, Bâbur came from a Turkish noble family. He set out to conquer his father's kingdom, the throne of the Ferghana, in front of other pretenders, and obtained it. Then, fearing the Uzbeks, he directed the army he had succeeded in forming on the Punjab and eventually conquered Kabul, Lahorre, and then Delhi. His son Humayun continued his work and on his death a new empire was born, spreading all over North India, from Afghanistanist to Bengal. His successors further expanded the empire, taking the lands of the South up to the 6th generation, the latter having conquered the territory. From this time the other emperors lost nothing of their influence until the English colonization, during which the dynasty ended.

Learn more: The Mughals

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