Standing majestically on the banks of the Yamuna River in India’s ancient city of Agra, the Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most enduring monuments. This white-marble shrine to eternal love was built in the 1600s by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to honor the memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal is a jewel of Islamic art and architecture located in a predominantly Hindu nation. While many travelers are familiar with the sublime appearance of this architectural masterpiece, there is still much to discover. Here are eight facts that you might not know about the Taj Mahal.
More Than 20,000 Craftsmen Built the Mausoleum
The entire Taj Mahal complex — which occupies an area of 42 acres — took 22 years (from 1631 to 1653) to complete. To achieve such an enormous project, Emperor Shah Jahan called upon more than 20,000 workers, who came from across India and other parts of Asia. This workforce included calligraphers from Syria and Persia, sculptors from Uzbekistan, and stonecutters from Pakistan. Mughal lapidarists — artisans who cut and polish gemstones — were responsible for the sublime and intricate inlay work.
Shah Jahan’s Own Son Banned Him From the Mausoleum
The reign of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor of India, saw the Mughal Empire reach the peak of its military and cultural prowess. By 1658, however, he had fallen into ill health and was deemed unable to rule. This triggered a power struggle among his four sons. Aurangzeb, the third son, was the victor and, believing that his father was incompetent, sentenced him to house arrest at Agra Fort. For the final eight years of his life, Shah Jahan was only able to view his magnificent creation through a small window from the fort.
It Changes Color Dramatically Throughout the Day
Among the many beguiling aspects of the Taj Mahal is its ability to change color throughout the day. At dawn, the structure takes on a pinkish hue as the first light of day reflects softly upon the white marble exterior. It then turns milky white as the sun reaches its highest point and shines down on the main dome. When illuminated by the light of the moon, it appears golden. (Visitors can even register for special tours to witness the shrine during the full moon.) According to legend, this ever-changing appearance was planned deliberately to reflect the changing moods of the empress Mumtaz Mahal.
The Four Minarets Look Perpendicular — But They're Not
Four 130-foot-tall minarets surround the Taj Mahal’s central tomb and showcase Shah Jahan’s passion for symmetrical design. At first glance, they seem to stand perfectly perpendicular to the ground; however, on closer inspection you’ll notice they are tilted slightly outwards. This wasn’t a design fault, but rather a way to protect the tomb in the event of a natural disaster — should the minarets fall, then the material would land away from the building. The four towers were built to be used by a muezzin, the person who calls daily prayers, and each features two balconies and an elevated dome-shaped pavilion, called a chattri.
The Taj Mahal Wasn’t the First Place Where Mumtaz Mahal Was Buried
Shah Jahan’s wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died in 1631 from postpartum complications while accompanying Shah Jahan on a military campaign. Although the Taj Mahal was built to honor the empress, it wasn’t completed until more than two decades after her death. For the first six months after her passing, the empress’s remains were kept in the quiet town of Burhanpur, in a garden called Ahukhana. Once a royal retreat for Mughals, today Ahukhana is an overgrown relic of a once powerful empire. Following this brief interment, the body of Mumtaz was taken to Agra and buried in a garden on the banks of the Yamuna River; she was eventually moved to her glorious mausoleum in 1653.
Some Believe That the Emperor Wasn’t Supposed to Be Buried Here
From the minarets to the ornamental gardens and twin buildings that flank the main tomb, the Taj Mahal has been lauded for its striking symmetry. But there’s one asymmetrical feature that stands out. While the cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal rests in the center of the mausoleum, that of Shah Jahan seems to be placed as an afterthought to the side of his wife. Some historians theorize this is because the emperor had plans to build a black Taj Mahal for himself on the opposite side of the Yamuna River. However, that dream would never materialize after Shah Jahan was placed under house arrest by his son, who then ordered the cenotaph’s irregular placement upon his father’s death.
A British Governor Wanted to Demolish It
The British East India Company, under the direction of Lord William Bentinck (who became Governor-General of British India in 1828), once hatched a nefarious plan to dismantle the Taj Mahal and make a profit from auctioning off its vast amounts of marble. On a visit to Agra in 1830, Bentinck remarked on the poor state of the Shahi Hamman bath house at Agra Fort. He then ordered the immediate destruction of the bath house and other valuable features of the fort. Nevertheless, the marble was deemed unsuitable for residential purposes and failed to fetch the desired price. The lack of interest saved one of the world’s most recognizable moments from a governor’s greed.
Another Governor Was Responsible for a Restoration Project in the 1900s
By the late 1800s, the Taj Mahal had fallen into a state of disrepair. This was caused by a combination of the fading power of the Mughal Empire and damage inflicted during the 1857 Indian Rebellion. Fortunately, the British viceroy Lord Curzon took it upon himself to oversee a complete renovation of the complex. His project covered everything from the mausoleum to the gardens and courtyards. The restoration commenced in 1900 and was completed in 1908. Curzon gifted two chandeliers to the Taj Mahal as part of the project, one that hangs above the cenotaphs inside the tomb and another that adorns the royal gate. He also commissioned a bronze lamp based on the design of one he’d seen at the mosque of Sultan Baybars II in Cairo.