Taj Mahal
Shah Jahan's and Mumtaz Mahal's tomb at Agra, India

Completed about 1650

Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful and costly tombs in the world. The Indian ruler (Mongul emperor) Shah Jahan ordered it built in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1629 giving birth to their 14th child. The tomb stands at Agra in northern India. More than 20,000 stonemasons, gem cutters, marble fitters, and laborers built it between c.1630 and c.1650.

According to tradition, the Taj Mahal was designed by a Turkish architect. It is made of Jodhpur white marble hauled in by elephant and rests on a platform of red sandstone. At each corner of the platform stands a slender minaret (prayer tower), each 133 feet high, and the building itself is 186 feet square. A dome, 70 feet in diameter and 120 feet high, covers the center of the building. Passages from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, decorate the outside along with inlaid floral patterns. A central room contains two cenotaphs (monuments) that visitors can see through a carved alabaster screen. The bodies of Shah Jahan and his wife lie in a vault below. The tomb stands in a garden.

Today, the majestic monument to love is operated as a tourist attraction by the Agra Development Authority under the auspices of the Archaeological Survey of India which oversees more than 3,600 other monuments throughout the country.

But foreign tourists may be surprised to learn that in 2001 the price of admission has more than doubled to $20 per person. The price for Indians is less than a dollar. Such pricing discrimination is common in third world countries.

Contributor: William J. Hennessey, Ph.D., Director, Univ. of Michigan Museum of Art.


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