The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most iconic historical superstructures and India’s gem. Its construction began in 1632, following the death of Mumtaz Mahal, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan‘s favourite and closest wife. Her tomb is the centrepiece of a grand 17-hectare complex.
Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, according to Professor Najaf Haider, a historian at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, had a real “European romance” that transcended the arranged marriage tradition of the time.
It is said that when Mumtaz died from childbirth complications, Shah Jahan went into mourning and returned, appearing much older.
And legend has it that Mumtaz, before she died, said she “wished for a mausoleum more sublime than any the world had seen”.
Shah Jahan thus committed the rest of his life’s work and empire’s materials and wealth into giving his wife her final wish.
The building at the time would have looked incongruous compared to mausoleums around the Mughal Empire.
This is because Shah Jahan chose to create something entirely new; a never before-seen structure that would mark a new era of Mughal architecture.
In order to do this, as the documentary explained, Shah Jahan gathered inspiration from the tombs of his ancestors, picking and choosing specific aspects of their mausoleums to meld into one.
National Geographic’s documentary ‘Secrets of the Taj Mahal’ explained: “The Taj Mahal combines the very best elements of the memorials to Shah Jahan’s forefathers.
“No other mausoleum may come close to the Taj Mahal in scale, beauty and grace.
“This monument must be nothing less than a paradise here on Earth.
“Symbolism carved in stone and marble, a heavenly memorial to the Queen of the world.
“As a poet described it, ‘a teardrop on the cheek of time.'”
And the Taj wasn’t only groundbreaking in its exterior design.
To build it, Mughal engineers had to overcome the fast-flowing Yamuna river which the mausoleum is built on the banks of.
Speaking during the documentary, Iranian-German architect, Hadi Teherani, explained: “Close to water, you rarely find ground solid enough to build on.
“You have to dig down until you hit hard, dry earth.
“They (the engineers) came up with a brilliant solution to this problem, one that is still used today, in a slightly different form.
“They decided to build a well foundation – that was a revolutionary idea for those times.”
The great Mughal engineers dug deep wells below the water table – the underground boundary between the soil surface and the area where water saturates between sediments and cracks in rock.
They filled these newly dug wells with rocks and mortar, and a base was then cemented into the ground, on top of which the engineers stacked stone columns.
These columns were then linked together by giant arches, the result: a solid mountain of stone to support the foundation slab of what would become the Taj Mahal.
It was an ingenious move, as not only did the structure encapsulate the beauty of its surroundings, it enabled the Taj to be protected from the currents of the river forever.