Commissioned in 1632 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the remains of his late wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is a stunning symbol of love and architectural brilliance.
Influenced by Indian, Persian, and Islamic architectural principals, the Taj Mahal mausoleum is made of white marble, the color of which seems to change according to the time of day, and the entire mausoleum complex spans nearly 17 hectares (42 acres or about 20 big football pitches).
The construction of the Taj Mahal took 20 years and 20,000 workers to complete and the mausoleum houses not just the body of Mumtaz Mahal but also Shah Jahan himself. In this article, we look at some of the most interesting facts about the Taj Mahal in more detail.
1. The Taj Mahal was created by Emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Shah Jahan was the fifth Mughal emperor and ruled from 1628 to 1658. When his third and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal — a princess of Persian nobility and also Agra native — died, Shah Jahan was so overcome with grief that he wanted to build the Taj Mahal as a testament of his undying love for her.
2. The Taj Mahal’s color changes constantly throughout the day.
The shimmering white marble used in the construction of the Taj Mahal changes color according to the time of day — from the uplifting yellow of sunrise to the desolate deep blue of night. People have imagined poetically that the color changes reflect the feelings the late emperor underwent during his time with Mumtaz Mahal and after her death.
3. It took 20 years and 20,000 workers to build
The Taj Mahal is built of red sandstone and covered in large plates of marble. The artisans who helped in the construction of this world wonder hailed from many different countries and regions, including Central Asia, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. It took them 20 years to complete this momentous project and over 20,000 artisans were involved.
4. The most shocking rumor is probably false.
The rumor that Shah Jahan wanted the Taj Mahal to be uncopiable, and so he had the artisans hands cut-off to ensure they could never replicate such a feat ever again remains nothing more than a myth, as no proof to support this claim exists.
It appears that the workers were not only paid well but also respected for their skills that were necessary to build the Taj Mahal.
5. The name Taj Mahal means ‘Crown Palace’ in Persian.
What we do know, though, is that the name Taj Mahal is derived from Persian, the language spoken in the Mughal court. The word Taj means ‘crown’, while the word Mahal means ‘Palace’. Hence the name “Taj Mahal” can be accurately translated as ‘Crown Palace’ or ‘Palace of the Crown’.
6. The walls are inlaid with semi-precious stones and carved with Koran passages.
The Taj Mahal is made of red sandstone covered in white marble and most of the walls, inside and outside, are covered in either inlaid stone floral patterns or beautiful Arabic calligraphy. The calligraphy engraved into the walls includes verses from the Koran that speak of paradise.
The decorations also include inlaid precious or semi-precious stones in Pietra Dura patterns — a Florentine (13th–15th century) technique consisting of designs made from stones inlaid into a stone background. Some of the precious stones used for the inlay were jasper, jade, turquoise, and sapphire.
Many of these precious stones in the mausoleum were stripped off and taken by the British army during the Indian Mutiny of 1857.
7. Both cenotaphs and tombs are in the Taj Mahal.
At the heart of the Taj Mahal are the cenotaphs of both Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. These cenotaphs are empty commemorative mausoleums and the two are buried in unmarked graves in a chamber below because Islam forbids the decoration of graves.
These cenotaphs are surrounded by an exquisite marble screen, and beautiful calligraphic inscriptions in the form of Koran verses frame the arches of the chamber.
8. The Taj Mahal is almost perfectly symmetrical.
In line with Persian and Islamic architectural principals, the Taj Mahal is almost perfectly symmetrical. The minarets (towers), walls, rooms, and even gardens follow perfect symmetry.
The placing of the cenotaph of Shah Jahan — and his grave — are perhaps the only elements of the Taj that do not follow perfect geometric proportions and symmetrical precision.
9. There is a legend that Shah Jahan wanted to build a black marble Taj for himself.
The Black Taj, also known as the Kaala Taj or Second Taj, is a legendary black marble mausoleum that is said to have been planned to be built across the Yamuna River directly opposite the Taj Mahal.
Shah Jahan is said to have planned to build this black marble mausoleum as a tomb for himself and wanted the two structures (the Black Taj and the Taj he built for Mumtaz Mahal) to be connected by a bridge.
Historians still disagree about the validity of this claim, although the people of Agra whose families have lived there since Mughal times have continued to pass down the legend of the Black Taj to this day. Many people believe that evidence of the Black Taj cannot be found by archeologists because the son of Shah Jahan, who overthrew and imprisoned him, had it torn down.
10. A red sandstone mosque and guesthouse flank the Taj.
There is a mosque and a guest pavilion on opposite sides of the Taj Mahal. Red in color, both these buildings are supposed to be completely identical and symmetrical. The mosque is located to the west, towards the holy site of Mecca, while the second building, the guest house, is to the east of the mausoleum.
The mosque is an active site of worship meaning that the entire mausoleum complex of the Taj remains closed to visitors on Fridays for prayer purposes.
11. 1,000 elephants were used to transport the building materials to Agra.
The materials needed to build the Taj Mahal were transported with the help of over 1,000 elephants. It was mainly white marble and the red sandstone that required transportation, and it was sourced from all over India and the Middle East.
Red sandstone is common in Persian architecture and can be seen in other Mughal structures like the Red Fort and Jama Masjid both in Delhi, while white marble was used as a representation of the divine.
12. The minarets were built with a slight lean to create an optical illusion.
The four minarets, or towers, of the Taj, lean slightly outwards, thereby making the Taj Mahal look much larger from a distance. Because of this optical illusion, the first view that visitors are treated to upon entering the main gate is a striking one.
However, the minarets don’t only lean outwards to give the appearance of grandeur, but this architectural calculation also stems from the logic that having them lean outwards would prevent them from falling on, and destroying, the Taj main dome if there were an earthquake.
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13. Shah Jahan’s other wives and favorite servants are buried outside the Taj Mahal.
Although, when talking about the Taj, the main focus is usually on the love story between Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, and so we may think it is only a mausoleum for the two sweethearts.
However, there are several mausoleums outside the Taj, but in the same complex, where are buried Shah Jahan’s other wives and favorite servants, showing a level of respect and thoughtfulness to them too.
14. The Taj Mahal’s gardens are similar to British gardens.
The Taj Mahal’s original garden included roses and fruit trees, but this landscape was changed by the British during the 19th century.
When the British Viceroy restored the garden, they wanted the Taj’s gardens to resemble the lawns of London and clumps of shrubs and rows of trees were planted replacing its Mughal style. The European-style lawns have been retained up to now.
15. The Taj uses mud face packs for its façade.
Pollution levels in India remain alarmingly high and this is particularly true in the northern part of the country where Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, is located. High pollution levels have resulted in yellowing of the Taj’s white marble. To counteract this yellowing, a special mud-pack treatment has been and continues to be given to the iconic monument.
The cleaning treatment, a traditional recipe that is used by Indian women to restore a natural glow in their faces will, according to archeologists, help restore the natural sheen and color of the mausoleum.
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16. The Taj Mahal is visited by millions of people a year.
One of the biggest, if not the biggest tourist attraction in India — the Taj Mahal — is visited by millions of people from all around the world every year. In the 2018/19 tourism year, nearly 6.9 million people visited the Taj, an increase of 6% from the previous year.
Tourism authorities have currently placed a cap of 40,000 visitors a day to the mausoleum to help protect the grounds and building itself from wear and tear.
17. The best times to visit the Taj are sunrise, sunset, and night.
Visitors are free to choose the time of day they’d like to visit the Taj Mahal based on convenience, but sunrise is usually considered the best time to visit the historic site. This is especially true during the winter months from November to February.
Sunrise is considered the best time of day to visit the Taj because of the smaller crowds. Sunset is beautiful as well, as it gives the Taj a soft yellow and pinkish glow, but do be warned that more people tend to visit during this time, and this results in it being harder to take good photos.
18. Vehicles must stay at least 500 meters from the Taj.
Due to the air pollution in Agra, the Taj Mahal’s white marble is rapidly turning yellow. In order to protect this ivory-white marble mausoleum from harmful pollution, no polluting vehicles are allowed within 500 meters (550 yards) of the Taj Mahal.
Visitors must walk or take electric vehicles from the parking area to the Taj Mahal entrance. There are battery buses and golf carts available.
19. Chief Taj architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri was Persian not Indian.
The Taj Mahal is a combination of Islamic, Persian, and Indian styles. Ustad Ahmad Lahori was considered the chief architect of the Taj Mahal. He was a Persian architect in the court of Shah Jahan during India’s golden age of Mughal architecture. Besides being heavily involved in the construction of the Taj Mahal, he also laid the foundations of the Red Fort at Delhi.
20. The Taj Mahal hid from wars with false structures and scaffolding.
The Taj Mahal is the most stunning landmark in India, and it was extremely vulnerable as a target during wars. During World War II and conflicts between India and Pakistan throughout the 20th century, the British and Indian governments hid the gleaming beauty of the Taj by erecting bamboo scaffolding and covers over the dome of the Taj to mislead enemy pilots.
Hence, the Taj Mahal was overlooked by German, Japanese, and Pakistani bomber pilot missions and this wonder of the world survived several wars.