Architectural wonders of India
25 January 2018
The Taj Mahal was built in 1560 by Shah Jahan in memory of his Queen, Mumtaz Mahal, to enshrine her mortal remains. This architectural marvel is a visual masterpiece of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones. It took 20,000 men 22 years to build India’s most well-known building. The Taj Mahal receives up to 80,000 visitors per day at the weekends, making this stunning mausoleum the most popular tourist site in India for international and domestic tourists alike. Having seen the Taj Mahal with my own eyes, I can safely say that it lives up to the hype in mesmerising fashion. However, India has so much more to offer beyond the Taj Mahal.
The resting place of Mughal Emperor Humayun resembles a luxurious palace rather than a tomb. Located in the eastern part of Delhi, Humayun’s tomb is one of the best preserved Mughal monuments as well as the first example of Mughal architecture in India. The architecture of the tomb is strongly influenced by Persian design, evident in its arched alcoves, corridors and the high double dome. This tomb was also the first garden tomb of its kind in the Indian sub-continent. The garden was divided into four quarters by flowing water to simulate the paradise garden described in the Quran. The main building is constructed from red sandstone, while the tomb itself is made of yellow and black marble, crowned with a white marble dome. Often described as the predecessor to the Taj Mahal, Humayun’s Tomb inspired the most famous monument in India, which was built almost a century later by Humayun’s great-grandson Shah Jahan.
The Jama Masjid of Delhi is one of the largest mosques in India. A calm respite from the surrounding chaotic streets of Old Delhi, Jama Masjid can hold up to 25,000 people for prayers in its courtyard. It was Shah Jahan’s final architectural work of art, built between 1644 and 1658. Jama Masjid has three gateways with scalloped arches, four angle towers and two minarets standing 40m high. It was constructed from red sandstone, which was hand carved in Agra, as well as white marble. Decorative writing gives history to the building and it is still a place that is actively used by Muslims today. The floor plan of the mosque is covered with white and black ornamented marble to look like a Muslim prayer mat. During our visit, we were asked to remove our shoes and to wear special colourful gowns before entering the mosque as a sign of respect.
Amber Fort & Palace
Amber Fort & Palace is a classic, romantic Rajasthani Fort Palace. Constructed by Maharaja Man Singh, the commander of Akbar’s army, it was largely motivated by its highly defensible location. Perched on top of a hill overlooking Maota Lake, the rugged, time-ravaged walls of the Fort may not look beautiful from the outside, but the interior is a visual paradise. Built in the early 1600s, Amber Fort & Palace is home to the stunning Hall of Mirrors. A beautiful collection of over one million pieces of glass mirror tiles, as well as coloured glass, adorn the walls and ceiling. Around the palace, there are carved panels and paintings on the walls depicting hunting and war scenes, as well as festivals. Precious stones are embedded into the plaster in the Hall of Victor. Amber Fort & Palace is known for its artistic Hindu style elements, along with its large defensive walls and series of gates and cobbled paths. During our visit, we made our way up to Amber Fort by jeep via the small streets of Amber Village, which was definitely a highlight!
The Jantar Mantar in the city of Jaipur, Rajasthan, is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments, built by the Rajput King Sawai Jai Singh in 1734. It features the world's largest stone sundial and has gained recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Jantar Mantar expresses architectural innovations, as well as the coming together of ideas from different religious and social beliefs in 18th century India. I found our visit to Jantar Mantar absolutely fascinating. The numerous masonry, stone and brass instruments allow the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye, so our guide was able to explain to us how the time was determined down to the second using one particular sundial. There are also instruments for predicting eclipses and tracking the location of major stars as the earth orbits the sun, as well as monuments for each of the zodiac star signs.
Near Agra lies the stunning city of Fatehpur Sikri. This red sandstone palace complex was built by Emperor Akbar in 1569, in honour of the great saint Sheikh Asalim Christi who prophesied the heirless Akbar with the birth of three sons. Fatehpur Sikri was occupied as the capital of the Mughal Empire for 14 years but it eventually became deserted mainly due to the scarcity of water. I thought Fatehpur Sikri was eerily beautiful, as we wandered through the many vacant courtyards and abandoned buildings. Lying in the middle of the jungle, this 'Ghost City' is extremely well persevered, and is the perfect example of the splendour and grandeur of this Mughal empire at the height of its power.
Agra Fort, often referred to as the Red Fort, is the former imperial residence of the Mughal Dynasty located in Agra, India, but it can be more accurately described as a walled city. It contains a maze of buildings that form a city within a city, including vast underground sections. Construction of this massive red sandstone fort began in 1565 by Emperor Akbar, and today it is classed as a World Heritage site. Over the years, further additions were made to Agra Fort by Akbar’s grandson Shah Jahan, using white marble with beautiful ornate carvings. The fort was built primarily as a military structure by Akbar, but Shah Jahan transformed it into a palace. During our visit, we entered Agra Fort through the Amar Singh Gate. Lying on the banks of the Yamuna River, the balconies of Agra Fort give clear views of the Taj Mahal, which is about 2.5kms in the distance. It is rumoured that Shah Jahan died in a marble tower overlooking the Taj Mahal, the monument he had built in honour of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
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