The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum located in Agra. It was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife Arjumand Banu who later came to be known as Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Ottoman and Islamic architectural styles. In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was cited as "the jewel of Islamic art and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage."
The Taj Mahal is an extensive complex of buildings and gardens that extends over 22.44 hectares and includes subsidiary tombs, waterworks infrastructure, the small town of 'Taj Ganji' and a 'moonlight garden' to the north of the river Yamuna.
The translucent white marble used in the construction of the Taj Mahal was brought from Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab and the jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the cornelium from Arabia. In all, 28 types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.
The internal chamber of the Taj Mahal has inlay work of precious and semi-precious gemstones. The interior walls are about 25mts high and topped by a false interior dome decorated with a sun motif. Polluting traffic is not allowed near the complex and tourists must either walk from parking lots or catch an electric bus. The Khawasspuras (northern courtyards) are currently being restored for use as a new visitor centre.
Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632 and was completed in 1654. 22,000 people worked on it. The material was brought in from all over India and central Asia and it took a fleet of 1,000 elephants to transport it to the site.
The construction of the Taj Mahal was entrusted to a board of architects under imperial supervision including Abd ul- Karim Ma'mur Khan, Makramat Khan and the Persian Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. Lahauri is generally considered to be the principal designer. It is believed that after its completion an unrewarding Shah Jahan ordered the hands of the builders be cut off and the calligraphers blinded so they could never recreate the Taj Mahal.
The architectural complex comprised of five main elements: the Darwaza or main gateway, the Bageecha or garden, the Masjid or mosque, the Naqqar Khana or rest house and the Rauza or the Taj Mahal mausoleum. The impressive artwork includes geometric elements, plants and flowers, mostly common in Islamic architecture. The calligraphy on the Great Gate at the Taj Mahal reads "O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you."