Taj Mahal, a mausoleum in Agra, India, regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had it built in memory of his wife, Arjumand Banu Bagam, known as Mumtaz Mahal (Persian for “Elect of the Palace”), who died in 1631.
Building commenced about 1632. The mausoleum was complete by about 1643 and the surrounding complex of buildings and gardens was complete by about 1653. Situated on the southern bank of the Yamuna River, the white marble mausoleum is composed of four identical facades, each containing a large central arch 33 m (108 ft) high. A large bulb-shaped dome, over 73 m (240 ft) tall, rises over the center, with four smaller domes surrounding it. The building is raised on a square podium with a minaret (tower) at each corner. It is flanked by two red sandstone buildings—a mosque and its replica, the Jawab (Answer), a building of which the main function is visual balance. Visitors approach the Taj Mahal through an imposing red sandstone gate, decorated with inscriptions from the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an (Koran). The gate and accompanying walls also contain a vast, geometrically laid out garden, 305 m (1,002 ft) on each side. The enclosed garden, itself a Muslim symbol of paradise, is centered on a large, raised pool. Canals divide it into four equal parts, each containing flower beds, fountains, and cypress trees (symbols of death).
Inside the Taj Mahal, the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal stands at the center of an octagonal hall, while the slightly larger tomb of Shah Jahan, who died in 1666, is off to one side. Both are elaborately carved and inlaid with semiprecious stones, illuminated by sunlight filtering through an elaborately carved marble screen that is also studded with jewels.