The Taj Mahal located south of Agra, India on the Jamuna River is one of the New Wonders of the World and a World Heritage Site. It was built of white marble by Shah Jahan (1592-1666), the Emperor of the Mughal (Muslim) Empire in India (1628-1658) to honor his third wife, whom he married when she was 19 years old . Jahan’s love for Mumtaz Mahal, to the exclusion of his other two wives, was legendary. He was devastated when Mumtaz died in childbirth with their 14th child when she was only 31 years old.
Construction of the Taj Mahal which was Mumtaz’s tomb and a monument to his love for her began in 1632. The Taj Mahal, built by architect Ustad ‘Iza, employed Persian and Mughal architectural elements using the extreme wealth of Jahan’s empire to create a wonder of the world. The mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later.
The central dome is fifty-eight feet in diameter and rises to 213 feet. It is flanked by four subsidiary domed chambers. The four graceful, slender minarets are 162.5 feet each. The interior walls are about 82 feet high and the interior chamber of the Taj Mahal consists of a lapidary of precious and semiprecious gemstones.
Abstract forms, in keeping with the Muslim prohibition for using human/animal forms, are incorporated throughout the structure. Passages from the Qur’an are used as decorative elements. The calligraphy was made of jasper or black marble, inlaid in white marble panels. Mortared areas of the marble buildings were stained or painted in a contrasting color, creating geometric patterns of considerable complexity. Floors and walkways use contrasting tiles or blocks in patterns. Since Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves, the bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan were placed in a plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right towards Mecca.
Jahan was deposed and imprisoned by one of his sons (Aurangzeb) soon after the building project was finished. When the Mughal Empire declined, the tending of the garden also declined. When the British took over the management of the Taj Mahal during the time of the British Empire, they changed the landscaping to resemble that of traditional British lawns. In the late 19th century, British Viceroy Lord Curzon restored the monument that had been damaged by age and defaced by the British during the Indian rebellion of 1857. Today, the Taj Mahal has 2-4 million visitors each year.
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