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Agra, Dharmapuri, Uttar Pradesh 282001, India

GPS: 27.175595366406, 78.042445998274

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Located on the right bank of the sacred river of Yamuna, in the city of Agra, the Taj Mahal is a funerary mausoleum of white marble inlaid with fine and semi-precious stones. National emblem of India, this monument with impressive dimensions means “Crown of the Palace” in Persian. Born of a heartache, the Taj Mahal is one of the best known tombs in the world with the Great Pyramid of Giza (Egypt), the Khazneh of Petra (Jordan) and the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (China).

The Taj Mahal is considered by some to be the eighth wonder of the world. It is the work of the fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan who decides to erect it in memory of his third and favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal (Arjumand Banu) who bore the title of Mumtaz Mahal (“the Exalted One of the Palace”). It was after giving birth to their 14th child (half of them died in infancy) that she died suddenly in 1631, before she was 40. The best artisans of the whole empire but also of Central Asia, Europe and the Middle East, are requisitioned by the emperor to build this jewel of all beauty, symbol of paradise and eternal love. Shah Jahan reigned at the time on an immensely large territory and controlled the equivalent of a quarter of the world population. He opts for a white marble architecture, a rare and expensive material, which differs from the many Hindu buildings that surround it. To extract the white marble from the quarries of Makrana (located 300 kilometres away) and Jodhpur (150 kilometres) in Rajasthan, a thousand elephants are used without counting a multitude of oxen and buffaloes. About 20,000 forced workers contribute to the construction of the Taj Mahal, the total weight of which is estimated at 40,000 tonnes (the building site lasted about twenty years).

Completed in the mid-17th century, the Taj Mahal serves not only as the tomb of the deceased Mumtaz Mahal (who gave her name to the building) but also to Shah Jahan himself. The emperor died in 1658 after eight years of imprisonment in the Agra Fort, on the orders of his third son Aurangzeb, greedy for power. This flamboyant complex represents the most beautiful example of architecture in the Mughal dynasty combined with the finesse of Muslim art. With its large garden, its fountains, its reflective basin, its red sandstone mosque and its raised tombs, the Taj Mahal creates an unprecedented perspective effect. An essential step for high foreign dignitaries, it is distinguished by its almost perfect proportions and symmetry, marked by its large central dome, its four minarets and its series of iwans (vacuum openings typical of Islamic architecture). In recent years, large-scale renovation works have been underway to restore the Taj Mahal to its original radiance and combat the undesirable effects of air pollution surrounding the city of Agra.

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  • One of the most beautiful and characteristic architectures in the world; a model of harmony and splendour; the perfectly symmetrical plan of the Taj Mahal; a dazzling monument that seems to levitate
  • The romantic, iconic and timeless stamp of this magnificent Islamic funeral tomb; the political and religious functions of the monument designed from noble materials
  • The radiance of white marble generously encrusted with around thirty types of fine and semi-precious stones; the floral engravings, the arabesques, the geometric patterns, the refined ornamentation, the sculptures in relief and the majestic calligraphy integrated on the facades; the backbone of the red sandstone building (4 meters thick)
  • The combination of several styles (Indian, Islamic, Iranian and Ottoman) in the Mughal architecture; the use of ornamental materials (such as coral, jasper, rock crystal…) imported from the four corners of the Shah Jahan Empire and beyond (Sri Lanka, Russia, Iraq, Tibet…)
  • The gardens and walking areas arranged around the central water body (referring to the Garden of Eden in the Quran); the series of 96 fountains; the four minarets exceeding 40 meters in height; the architectural marvel of the central dome (26 meters high); the succession of arches and domes; the magnificent site access portal 30 meters high; the richly decorated crypt where the two imperial tombs rest; the eight walls inside the mausoleum representing the eight gates of paradise according to Islam
  • The colours of the day and the sun are reflected admirably on the marble of the Taj Mahal (conferring to the latter nuances of pink, orange, grey and yellow); the two red sandstone buildings on either side of the mausoleum, contrasting with the bright white marble
  • Its suitable location on the right bank of the Yamuna river; the Taj Protected Forest
  • Night visits specially organized on full moon evenings (by reservation)
  • The opening of the site every day of the year except Friday
  • According to Amina Okada (specialist in Art and Mughal India), the Taj Mahal is the subject of many legends and romances in literature. One extravagant story says that Emperor Shah Jahan cut off the hands of the architect (Ustad-Ahmad Lahauri) and gouged out the eyes of his workers to ensure that the monument would never be replicated elsewhere. Another theory states that the emperor, who was passionate about architecture, directed the construction project himself to help him drown his sorrows. One myth refers to a black marble mausoleum that Shah Jahan wanted to erect right in front of the Taj Mahal to serve as his tomb and rest there after his death. It is also said that Shah Jahan would be a descendant of Genghis Khan (1162-1227), founder of the powerful Mongol Empire. His harem would have brought together a total of 2,000 women.
  • In the Mughal tradition, emperors began building their tombs while they were still alive and symmetry was of great importance. To build the most beautiful tomb for his favourite princess and himself, Shah Jahan used the tomb of Humayun (the second Mughal emperor who died in 1556) as a model. This red sandstone mausoleum with a white marble dome is located in Delhi. Composed of 17 arcades and Persian gardens, it has been completely renovated thanks to the contribution of 1,500 craftsmen after 5 years of work.
  • For Emperor Shah Jahan, the mausoleum is the Terrestrial Paradise (Garden of Eden) as the heavenly home of his deceased wife. Extracts and complete suras from the Quran, referring to the Garden of Eden, are thus engraved in the calligraphic bands on the inner and outer walls of the Taj Mahal. The channels in the central basin represent the four rivers that irrigate the Garden of Eden in the Quran. The same is true of the flower motifs that are carefully incorporated into the wall decorations using the technique of Pietra dura (creating images from finely polished coloured stones). As for the white marble, it is imagined as a mirror of the purity of Mumtaz Mahal’s soul.
  • The foundations of the Taj Mahal rest on unstable ground above a large water table. In recent years, the soil has become significantly more fragile. The gradual drying up of the Yamuna River and its increasingly polluted nature would endanger the foundations of the mausoleum (these are composed of wooden beams that are rotting). Experts have recently been commissioned to carry out a complete assessment of the state of deterioration of the monument.
  • In the 1990s, the Taj Mahal was considered to be in danger due to heavy air pollution. The government decided to take important measures in the geographical area of Agra to safeguard this World Heritage Site (closing factories, abolishing car traffic in the vicinity, limiting the number of visitors). Despite these decisions, the monument remains under threat from the air saturated by the discharges of factories and vehicles. To make matters worse, the monsoon season tends to generate algae that proliferate on the white marble. Every three to five years, a thin layer of mud is applied to the walls to protect them and absorb dust.
  • According to recent studies, the central dome has a slight asymmetry of almost 5% difficult to see with the naked eye.
  • The copper door composing the magnificent access portal to the Taj Mahal replaced a silver door which would have been stolen by a Hindu tribe at the fall of the Mughal empire between the end of the 18th and the middle of the 19th centuries.
  • One of the two red sandstone buildings on either side of the burial complex does not face Mecca because it is not a mosque or a place of prayer (it is a guest house that was built only for aesthetic purposes and in order to respect the symmetry of the site).
  • Each flower decorating the cenotaph marble (tomb) of the crypt can contain up to 60 precious stones.
  • Lord William Bentinck (1827-1833), former Governor-General of India, had proposed to dismantle the Taj Mahal to resell each of its stones at auction in Britain. In the absence of potentially interested buyers, he resigned himself to demolishing the monument.
  • To restore, repair or renovate the mausoleum against the wear and tear of time, ancestral techniques are still used. The Indian workers and craftsmen who are mobilised use the same tools and processes of the past, in the time of the Mughal Empire.
  • Agra is easily accessible by train or bus from the cities of New Delhi and Jaipur (these three cities form the Golden Triangle in North India).
  • The Taj Mahal monument being a few kilometres away from downtown Agra, it can be reached by taxi, minibus or rickshaw (tricycle vehicle which has motorized versions).
  • Given that the Taj Mahal can be visited by up to 40,000 people a day in summer, choose the morning early to visit it (ideally before 7 am). It is at daybreak that the site reveals its full splendour. To better distribute the flow of visitors, the authorities are considering opening the night site.
  • During the duration of the work, access to the site may be limited in number of entries.
  • On the opposite bank of the Yamuna river, the Mehtab Bagh garden overlooks the back of the Taj Mahal building. This site offers a great point of view to observe the sun setting on the funeral mausoleum (floods can occur during the rainy season and make the site difficult to access in places).
  • The Google Arts & Culture site allows you to take a virtual tour of the Taj Mahal from several different angles and viewpoints.

Where to eat

  • Sheroes' Hangout
    (in support of disfigured women)
  • Green Park Restaurant
    (away from the crowd)
  • Esphahan
    (refined Indian cuisine)

Where to go out

  • Agra Fort
    (the red fortress of India)
  • Fatehpur Sikri
    (ancient imperial city)
  • Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah
    (architectural jewel)

Where to sleep

  • Zostel Agra
    (colored inn)
  • Mohini Home Stay
    (clean and elegant)
  • The Oberoi Amarvilas
    (luxurious stop)

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