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10 interesting facts about India’s Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal in India is said to be the most beautiful building in the world, but what do you really know about this incredible mausoleum?

By Chris Owen

Published 1 July 2024

Taj Mahal, India

As one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal has never been short of admirers. This magnificent monument has become India’s cultural crown jewel and enthralled visitors from foreign dignitaries and politicians to pop stars and princesses. Perfect symmetrical alignment and pristine condition make it a must-visit masterpiece. It’s also ideally located within India’s Golden Triangle.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and considered one of the most photographed places on the planet, there are no end of fascinating facts associated with the Taj Mahal. And if you’re looking to find out a few more, we’ve compiled a top ten.

Interiors of Taj Mahal Mosque at Agra, India

1. A labour of love – why was the Taj Mahal built?

As with any true love story, the Taj Mahal is built on tears. Such was the grief suffered by Shah Jahan when his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal* (which in Persian means ‘Jewel of the Palace’), died delivering the couple’s 14th child in 1631. The fifth Mughal Emperor would commission the construction of the marble mausoleum as a suitably decadent resting place for Mumtaz, as well as himself when he passed away some 35 years later in 1666.

*Mumtaz Mahal’s original name was Arjumand Banu Begum, but she was renamed by Shah Jahan to signify his favouritism for her as the only mother of his children.

Visitors on a tour at the Taj Mahal

2. Who built the Taj Mahal and how long did it take?

It took 22 years to build the Taj Mahal with construction finishing in 1653. Over that time, more than 22,000 labourers were used as well as almost 1,000 elephants who helped with the heavy lifting. Materials, such as marble, crystal, and precious gems, were imported from all over the world including sapphires from as far afield as Sri Lanka. The primary architect and engineer responsible for the project, Ustad Ahmad Lahori, was considered one of the finest Mughal builders of his generation. Lahori would also write plans and oversee the construction of Delhi’s Red Fort and the Jama Mosque, both of which can be seen on a six night Taste of India tour. Despite numerous rumours about what happened to Lahori after he’d finished the Taj Mahal, including Shah Jahan ordering he have his thumbs removed, he went on to have a rich and fruitful life, passing on his construction business, and expertise, to his sons in Lahore.

Young woman travelling in India contemplating ancient temple in Jaipur, India

3. What architectural style is the Taj Mahal?

The Taj Mahal is typical of Mughal architectural style combining elements of Ottoman, Indian, Persian and intricate Islamic decoration. It’s considered the world’s best example of Mughal architecture and features myriad semi-precious gems inlaid within its outer walls as well as delicate floral designs.

The landscaped gardens surrounding the Taj are adorned with daffodils, roses and clusters of fruit trees. Neatly cut sections of grass frame narrow reflection pools and fountains with plenty of tiled pathways leading to shady spots and marble benches – including the one in front of the palace that was used by a solo seated Princess Diana in 1992. The gardens were originally designed to resemble the Garden of Eden and thanks to relatively strict crowd control, it’s still a peaceful place to sit and ponder.

Replica of tomb of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his queen Mumtaj situated in exact below the central dome of Taj Mahal.

4. What’s inside the Taj Mahal?

Set within the inner core of the Taj Mahal lie the twin tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. These commemorative cenotaphs can be seen by the public from a viewing area, although no one’s allowed inside the chamber. The 99 names of Allah are inscribed on Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb and the walls of the chamber are covered in calligraphy taken from the Quran. However, if you think you’re reverently observing the resting place of the Mughal Emperor and his wife, you’d be wrong. They’re actually buried directly underneath the chamber in symmetrical tombs devoid of any decoration or inscription, in keeping with Islamic teachings. The only embellishment to be seen are the four miniature minarets sitting at each corner of the plinth framing each tomb.

Taj Mahal Sunset, India

5. An everchanging Persian palette

One of the extra special elements to the Taj Mahal is that it appears to change colour depending on the time of day. This is thanks to the quality of the materials used within the construction, including the highly prized white marble that was lifted from the mines of Makrana in Rajasthan, some 400 kilometres west of the site. Visit in the early morning and you’ll find the façade bathed in a pink hue before turning to a shimmering white as the sun reaches its highest point at midday. And, as the sun begins to set, you’ll find the Taj features an opaque appearance before finally succumbing to a golden glow in the moonlight.

Taj Mahal by the River Yamuna, India

6. Solid foundations – how has the Taj Mahal lasted so long?

Despite being built on a multitude of timber pillars, the foundations of the Taj Mahal are incredibly well preserved. This is thanks to the hydrating properties of the Yamuna River that has provided a surprisingly shock absorbent and durable substructure to keep the temple from falling down in the event of an earthquake. Also, the main minarets that sit symmetrically surrounding the palace are actually leaning ever so slightly outwards. This, again, is to ensure the marble dome is left intact after an earthquake as the minarets would fall away from the centre of the structure as opposed to on top of it.

Crowds at the Taj Mahal, India

7. How many people visit the Taj Mahal each year?

Despite only allowing a mere 40,000 visitors to enter the grounds of the royal palace every day, it’s estimated that up to four million people from around the world visit the Taj Mahal each year. Opening hours are from dawn until dusk for every day of the week other than Fridays. However, when there’s a full moon, the grounds are open for an additional four hours from 8.30pm to 12.30am.

Aerial view of Taj Mahal, one of the 7 wonders in the world. Monument of the queen's grave.

8. Why the Taj Mahal was built in Uttar Pradesh

Situated on the south bank of the Yamuna River in the city of Agra, Uttar Pradesh, the Taj Mahal has long been India’s most famous cultural icon. However, it might surprise you to learn that Agra was not the first site that came to the mind of Shah Jahan when he was contemplating where to place his wife’s mausoleum. Mumtaz’s hometown of Burhanpur, in the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh, was where the Taj Mahal was originally meant to have been built. However, as the main marble source was in Makrana, Rajasthan, it was decided that Agra would be a better option, if only to help out the elephants.

Close up of The Taj Mahal

9. How much did the Taj Mahal cost to build?

It’s estimated that the Taj Mahal cost 32 million Indian Rupees to build in 1653, which equates to around £305,000. Materials, labour, transportation and the skills of artisans, architects and civil engineers all added to the toll on Shah Jahan’s coffers over the course of roughly two decades. And if you want to put the costs into today’s money, you’re looking at closer to 35 billion Indian Rupees or £400 million.

Corridor of Taj Mahal

10. The Taj Mahal was hidden during the war

During WWII, the Indian people and the British colonialists were becoming increasingly worried about the aerial threat from enemy aircraft. Heritage properties and national landmarks were considered a worthy prize for Japanese fighter pilots, and none more so than the Taj Mahal. In order to throw the enemy off the scent, bamboo scaffolding was erected around the building before being covered in bamboo poles to make it look like a giant wooden stockade. The plan worked so well that a similar scheme was employed in 1971 during the Indo-Pakistani War. In this instance, the marble dome was draped in a khaki green camouflage mesh and covered with twigs, leaves and foliage.

Ready for an Indian adventure with a visit to the Taj a part of the itinerary? We offer a range of guided and independent tours that’ll see you coming face to face with this majestic monument – discover our collection of holidays to India.

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