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Leaning Tower of Pisa history

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was built as a part of Piazza dei Miracolli and is the piazza’s third oldest structure, after the Cathedral and the Baptistry. More precisely, an inscription located to the right above the entrance to the tower, tells us that the construction started on august 9th, 1173.

A symbol for wealth

One of the purposes of the Leaning Tower was to serve as the bell tower for the cathedral. However, the main purpose of the Leaning Tower was to show the world the wealth and power of the city of Pisa.

During these times, Pisa with its mighty fleet was one of the strongest and most powerful Italian cities. They had successfully waged war all over the Mediterranean Sea and the new tower needed to reflect these victories. This is why the Leaning Tower of Pisa looks completely different compared to an ordinary bell tower.

The leaning tower

A few years after the construction started, the tower began to lean towards the southeast. This due to the fact that the tower was built on a poorly laid foundation, only three meters deep.

The tower was also built on weak, unstable subsoil which allowed the foundation to slightly shift direction. This caused one side of the tower to sink into the ground. When this happened, five years had passed since the start of the construction and the tower had progressed to the third floor. With this, the construction halted for almost a century.

Saved by war

The halt in construction was not because of the problems with the Leaning Tower, but because the inhabitants of Pisa were almost continually engaged in battles with Genoa, Lucca and Florence. The halt in construction allowed time for the underlying soil to settle. This most likely saved the tower, as without the interference of wars, the tower would almost certainly have toppled.

Completion

In year 1272, the construction of the Leaning Tower resumed. In an effort to compensate for the tilt, the engineers built upper floors with one side taller than the other. With the new change, the tower began to lean in the other direction; instead of southeast it began to lean southwest. The completion of the Leaning Tower would however take another 100 years, as several smaller wars interfered. With the completion of the bell chamber in 1372, one of the most unusual monuments of all times stood finished.

Stabilization projects

The Leaning Tower is been subject to several restoration and stabilization projects; not only due to the towers instable nature, but also due to its age and exposure to wind and rain.

The first stabilization project was initiated in the 1960ies, when the engineers realized that the tilt was increasing in combination with a softer foundation. Many methods for stabilizing the Leaning Tower were discussed, including the addition of 800 tons of lead counterweights to the raised end of the base.

Later, in 1990, a massive restoration and stabilization project was initialized. During this project, the Leaning Tower was closed to the public and the bells were removed to relieve some weight. The plan was to straighten up the tower by removing 38 cubic meters of soil from underneath the raised end using special drills. In order to keep the Leaning Tower stabile during this daring project, several heavy cables were cinched around the third level and anchored several hundred meters away. Apartments and houses in the path of the tower were also vacated for safety.

In 2001, the project was finally completed and the Leaning Tower had been straightened by 45 centimeters, returning to the exact position it had in 1838. After these massive reconstruction and stabilization efforts, the tower was reopened to the public in December 2001 and was declared stable for at least another 300 years.

Why visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa ?

The 56 meter high Leaning Tower of Pisa is world famous, not only for its beautiful looks, but mainly for its heavy tilt. It is one of the heaviest leaning towers in the world – and for sure the most famous one.

Prior to restoration work performed between 1990 and 2001, the Leaning Tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees, but the tower now leans about 4 degrees. This means that the top of the tower is almost four meters from where it would stand if the tower were perfectly vertical.

If one feels ambitious, and isn’t afraid of heights, a trip to the top of the Leaning Tower is highly recommend. While almost 300 steps will take some time to climb, it provides a great view of Piazza dei Miracolli and the city of Pisa.

Today, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the region’s number one tourist destination – attracting people from all over the world. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and without a doubt one of the world’s most famous towers.

Leaning Tower of Pisa location

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is located in central Pisa, on Italy’s west coast. The tower is situated on the famous Piazza dei Miracoli.  For the exact location of the Leaning Tower, check out the location map to the right.

Colosseum history

The Colosseum was built by Emperor Verpasian, the founder of the Flavian Dynasty. The Colosseum was actually originally called “the Flavian Amphitheatre”. The construction started in year 72 AD and the whole building stood completed 8 years later.

The Colossus

The huge structure was constructed on top of a park built by the previous emperor, Nero. This park included a massive statue of Emperor Nero, which was allowed to remain next to the theatre.

The statue was known as the Colossus statue, from which the theaters current name – Colosseum – derives from. The name was further changed towards “Colosseum” during the Middle Ages. In Italian, the amphitheatre is still known as Il Colosseo.

A massive stadium

The size of the Colosseum is imposing. Its elliptical structure reaches 189 meters long, 156 meters wide and stands almost 50 meters tall. The number of people it could accommodate is not certain, but estimates put the figure at around 50,000. The architecture was carefully planned in order to fit all these people. Its architects adopted solutions very similar to those used in modern stadiums to deal with the same problem.

The Colosseum had a total of eighty entrances at ground level. Each one was numbered, just like each exist and each staircase. In order for spectators to find their seats, they were given tickets in the form of numbered pottery shards which directed them to the appropriate section and row. The sections were based upon class and rank in the society, with the higher classes getting the seats which provided the best view.

Innovation at its finest

The Colosseum was not only groundbreaking when it comes to sheer size; it was also one of the most innovative and complex buildings of its time. The arena in particular had some very innovative solutions.

The arena consisted of a wooden floor covered by sand which concealed an elaborate underground structure known as the “hypogeum”. The hypogeum, literally meaning “underground”, consisted of a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages.

The underground was where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Several tunnels connected nearby stables and gladiator schools to the hypogeum which allowed them to enter the structure undetected. By raising and lowering several hidden shafts and platforms, both gladiators and wild animals could be summoned instantly into the arena.

Gladiators

One can’t mention the Colosseum without mentioning gladiators. These classic warriors got their name from the roman short word, Gladius, which was used by the Roman legionaries. A gladiator was normally a prisoner of war or a slave who had been given the decision to either stay as a slave or fight in the arena.

For the ones who got the chance to chose, the decision was most likely hard -but easy. Slavery meant a slow, often painful death. On the other hand, successful gladiators could become very famous and even earn some money. If they survived enough battles, they also won their freedom by gaining the wooden sword.

Arena battles

The gladiator battles were by far the most appreciated of all shows. Before the battles began, the gladiators always paid homage to the Emperor’s stage with the famous words; “Ave Caesar, those who are about to die salute you.”

The gladiator battles were often duels between two combatants, matched up against each other depending on why type of equipment they carried. If one gladiator had been defeat in a duel, but not killed, he could ask for mercy by raising his arm. The emperor then decided his fate by either giving thumbs up or thumbs down, while the crowds did their best to affect the decision.

Other shows that frequently took place in the arena were battles between wild animals and between men and animals. The animals were mainly imported from Africa and the Middle East and included creatures such tigers, lions, bears and panthers. The games were usually held for a whole day or even several days in a row.

To mark the inauguration of the Colosseum in year 80 AD, Vespasian’s successor, Titus, held games one-hundred days in a row. In the process, thousands of wild animals and gladiators were killed.

More than entertainment

The theatre quickly became the most important political tool of an emperor. Emperors used the Colosseum to entertain the public with games. It was here that the emperor met and controlled the people of Rome. The arena continued to be used for contests well into the 6th century, with the gladiatorial fights in early 5th century.

Destruction

Throughout the years, the Colosseum has been damaged several times. Within its first 500 years, several earthquakes accrued which led to both external and internal damage on the structure. Lightning also hit the Colosseum one time, resulting in a fire which destroyed wooden parts of the amphitheatre’s interior.

Severe damage was dealt to the Colosseum in the 14th century, when a major earthquake caused parts of the outer walls to collapse. The result of this can still be seen today, as the whole southern part of the outer wall is gone.

During the Middle Ages, ancient Roman buildings and monuments weren’t respected in the same way they are today. For this reason, much of the tumbled stone was reused to build palaces, churches, hospitals and other buildings elsewhere in Rome, which has made any large rebuilding projects impossible.

Other signs of the medieval spoliation can also be seen on the Colosseum. The bronze clamps which held the stonework together have been hacked out of the walls, leaving numerous marks which still scar the building today.

Other usage

During its history, the Colosseum has not only been used for games and events. After the last gladiator and hunting events, it has been used as a church, as a cemetery and even as a fortress at one point.

During the 16th and 17th century, Church officials sought a productive role for the old Colosseum. Pope Sixtus the 5th even suggested that the building should be turned into a wool factory, but his proposal fell through.

Restoration

This thought of making the building productive was later abandoned. Instead, several Popes had various stabilization and restoration projects initiated. What they didn’t know at this time, is that this decision was about to make the Colosseum extremely productive in the future. Without their restoration projects, the Colosseum of today would not have been the same.

Throughout the 19th and 20th century, the façade has been reinforced and the interior repaired. There has also been a major restoration project more recently, finishing in year 2000. This project involved cleaning the building in order to deal and combat the effects of air pollution.

Why visit the Colosseum ?

The Colosseum was the Roman Empire’s most impressive building. The ruins of the Colosseum have fascinated people over the centuries with its striking beauty. One can only imagine how great it was during its prime time.

The Colosseum has become one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions, receiving millions of visitors each year. Hardly surprising, as the Colosseum is not only one of Italy’s most famous buildings, but one of the most famous buildings in the whole world.

Visitors to the Colosseum can enjoy walking in what use to be the Roman Empire’s most impressive building. The underground of the Colosseum, the hypogeum, is now totally exposed, so visitors can really get a good look of the fascinating levels.

Colosseum location

The Colosseum is located in RomeItaly. The Colosseum is situated next another of Ancient Rome’s greatest sites; the Roman Forum. For the exact location of the Colosseum, check out the location map to the right.

Colosseum Video

The Golden Gate Bridge history

Something unknown to many is that the name, “Golden Gate”, actually refers to the opening to the San Francisco Bay and not the bridge itself. The strait became known as the Golden Gate during the Californian gold rush in the mid 19th century.

The gold rush meant that hundred thousands of people came to San Francisco in pursuit of riches. Many came by boat and thus passed by the strait when entering San Francisco.

Construction begins

Before the bridge was built, the only route between San Francisco and Marin County to the north was by boat across the bay. The first ferry service began already in the early 19th century. The planning for a bridge over the strait began 100 years later, under the main architect Joseph Strauss. The construction finally began on January 5th, 1933.

A wonder of its time

As one probably can imagine, constructing a bridge like this was no easy task. At the time, many even believed it was technically impossible to span the Golden Gate. Despite the disbelief and even defying the Great Depression, Joseph Strauss was able to find sufficient support and financial backing to go ahead with the project. The project was successful and the bridge stood completed in 1937.

Saved by the net

The price tag for the bridge landed at more than 30 million dollars; a hefty price at the time. The bridge did not only come with a monetary cost, but also in terms of human lives as the construction process was dangerous.

Even though an innovative safety net had been installed, 11 men were killed from falls during the construction. 19 more men fell, but were saved by the net. They became proud members of the informal “Halfway to Hell Club”.

During the open ceremony, more than 200,000 people crossed the bridge by foot, as vehicle traffic was not allowed the first days.

Design

While Joseph Strauss was the main architect, the majority of the design was handed over to Irving Morrow, a relatively unknown residential architect. He designed the overall shape of the bridge towers, the lighting scheme and Art Deco elements such as the streetlights, railing and walkways.

Trademark color

The general belief is that the bridge is red, but this is not totally accurate. The color of the bridge is actually an orange with a reddish hue, known as “international orange”. Rumors say that the color was originally only to be used as a sealant for the bridge, but Morrow chose to leave it orange instead of painting it the standard gray.

The orange did not only compliment its surroundings well, but it also enhanced the bridge’s visibility in fog. Today, the striking color has become one of the most prominent features of the bridge and it has definitely contributed to its popularity.

Why visit the Golden Gate Bridge ?

The magnificent Golden Gate Bridge is San Francisco’s signature sight. Not only is it the symbol for San Francisco; the Golden Gate Bridge is a symbol for California and the whole United States.

Impressive figures

The Golden Gate Bridge is absolutely massive. Its total length is 2737 meters, making the it one of the largest suspension bridges in world. The two massive tower stand almost 250 meters tall, of which 20 meters are below water.

The two massive cables one can see supporting the bridge have a diameter of 90 centimeters. They are woven from more than 27,000 threads of steel, with a total length that equals three times the earth’s circumference. The bridge is kept in one piece with the help of more than 1.2 million rivets; mind-blowing figures to say the least!

A popular bridge

Today, the bridge is crossed by an average of more than 100.000 cars per day and thousands of pedestrians. It can actually be quite a challenge to cross the bridge. Not only is it almost 3km long, but it also often quite windy. In extreme circumstances the bridge can sway several meters. However, visitors to the Golden Gate Bridge should definitely cross it if they can as the views are amazing.

A sad record

Visitors crossing the bridge will likely see several emergency phones along the way. Sadly, the bridge is not only known for its spectacular looks. The bridge is also one of the most popular places in the whole world to commit suicide.

Striking architecture

When the bridge was completed in 1937 it was the world’s longest and tallest suspension bridge. Even though it has long lost its records, it is still one of the world’s most famous structures. In 1999, it was ranked fifth on the List of America’s Favorite Architecture.

It is one of the most recognized landmarks of the United States and highly regarded as the most popular and photographed bridge ever built. It is even ranked by some as one of the wonders of the world.

Today, the bridge is visited by millions of people each year. Just like the Golden Gate greeted the visitors of the past, the bridge of today provides a wonderful welcome to San Francisco visitors.

Golden Gate Bridge location

The Golden Gate Bridge is located in western United States, in San Francisco, California. The bridge spans the Golden Gate, the opening of San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean. The Golden Gate Bridge connects the city of San Francisco on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula to Marin County.

For the exact location of the Golden Gate Bridge, check out the location map to the right!

Golden Gate Bridge Video

Machu Picchu history

Machu Picchu, or “The lost city of the Incas” as it is often called, is not as old as many people think. Machu Picchu was constructed by the Incas around year 1430 AD, but to what purpose is unknown.

Some believe the city was constructed simply as a recreation place for the Inca emperor Pachacuti and other important Incas. Another theory is that Machu Picchu was used as a retreat, hence the hidden location high up in the mountains. Others say it was used as a temple to the gods and served as a hub between other sacred Inca sites.

Agriculture area

Machu Picchu is made up of two main areas; the agricultural area and the urban area. The agricultural area is made up of the terraces that are so typical for Machu Picchu. These terraces were used to grow the crops needed to feed the inhabitants of the city. There was more than enough space to grow crops to feed the maximum number of inhabitants in the city.

Even though it might seem unpractical to grow crops high up in the mountains, it was actually not that hard. One thing that made this possible was that the crops did not need any irrigation, due to the constant rains and ever-present humidity. Another purpose of the terraces was also to help reduce the risk of erosion caused by the rain.

Urban area

The urban part of Machu Picchu is made up of temples, palaces, storehouses, workshops, stairways and living quarters. The architectural design was based on the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco.

The constructions throughout the city follow the natural curves of the land, which makes the city and its surrounding blend so magically well together. The Incas architectural skills – and their masonry in particular – is something truly amazing. On all but the least important buildings, the Incas did not use any mortar when constructing the houses and temples.

This allowed to stones to move slightly which made it more resistant to earthquakes. However, this also required much more skill from the masons, as the stones need to be shaped to fit each other more precisely. Some junctions in the central city are so perfect that not even a straw of grass fits between the stones.

Religious use

Regardless of its main purpose, it is known that Machu Picchu served as a shrine to the gods and as a place of worship to the mountains surrounding it. Through the urban part of the city, “replica stones” can be found.

These stones have been shaped to match the mountains behind them, which show the Incas devotion to the mountains and the mountain god “Apo”.

Another key place in Machu Picchu, located on one of the northeast hills, is the Intiwatana stone. In the native language, Quechua, “inti” means “sun” and “wata” “year”. This describes one of the specific functions of this stone.Researchers believe the Incas used it as an astronomic clock or a calendar, by looking at the movement of the shadow cast by the stone during sunlight. The stone was also believed to serve as an altar and shrine to the gods.

Abandoned

To many researchers surprise, Machu Picchu seems to have been abandoned by the Incas only 100 years after its construction.  There is clear evidence that the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, which indicates that the city was abandoned before the Spanish conquer of the Inca Empire. Why they abandoned Machu Picchu is still very much unknown.

Theories suggest that diseases such as small pox killed much of its population, which made the city too hard and expensive to maintain. Other suggests that they abandoned the city in order to please the gods, after the death of the Inca leader Pachacuti.

Covered in mystery

As the Incas did not write anything down for the afterworld the read, much is still unknown about the Inca Empire in general and Machu Picchu in particular. What the true purpose of the city was, how they lived and why it eventually was abandoned will forever, just like Machu Picchu itself, be covered in clouds of mystery.

Rediscovered

The remarkable ruins of the city were rediscovered in 1911 by the American archeologist and professor, Hiram Bingham. Even though it’s debated whether or not he was the first foreigner to visit Machu Picchu, Bingham was the one who brought Machu Picchu to the outside world.

Why visit Machu Picchu ?

The ancient city of Machu Picchu is one of Peru’s most famous destinations and a main symbol of the Incas. Today Machu Picchu is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year.

This is hardly suprising, as Machu Picchu truly is one of a kind. Machu Picchu combines sheer beauty, incredible architecture, mysterious history and breathtaking landscape in a way few other sites can match.

The remains of this ancient city is considered one of the worlds true wonders, as it has been voted into the official “The seven wonders of the world”-list. A visit to Peru, but not Machu Picchu, is no visit at all!

Machu Picchu location

Machu Picchu is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in southern Peru. It is located around 80 kilometres northwest of the city of Cuzco .

Machu Pichu is located high up in the mountains, 2450 meters above sea level, between the two mountain peaks “Huayana Picchu” and “Machu Picchu”. The former means “Young Mountain” and the later, which has given the city its name, means “Ancient Mountain”.

For the exact location of Machu Picchu, check out the location Map to the right.

Machu Picchu Video

Borobudur history

It’s difficult to say exactly when and why Borobudur was built, as there are no written records to be found. Archeoligists and historians estimate that Borobudur was built during the Sailendra dynasty, in mid 8th century, and took around 75 years to complete. Borobudur is only one of several temples located in central Java built during this era.

Rival dynasties

Borobudur was built during an era where power shifted between two rival families, the Buddhist Sailendras and the Hindu Sanjayas. Both built large temples, this one being Saildendras largest temple while Prambanan was the Sanjayas greatest temple.

Even though these two dynasties were rivals, archeologists have come to believe that there was never a large scale religious conflict on Java. They point to the fact that temples of different religion have been allowed to remain, even during times when the rival was in power.

Abandoned

Borobudur was later abandoned, for what reason is still unknown. What is known is that the center of power moved from central Java to east Java in the 10th century and that several volcanic eruptions took place during the same period. If the eruptions caused the abandonment is hard to say, but many say it is the most likely reason for the abandonment.

Others believe Borobudur was used actively as a temple all the way into the 16th century, until the majority of the population converted to Islam. Again, the exact reason why it was abandoned is impossible say.

The legend

Even though Borobudur lay hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and jungle growth; the monument was not completely forgotten. According to the Javanese history scripts, smaller rebel battles have taken place close to the temple and some notes associate the temple with bad luck and misery.

One script mentions the misfortune of the crown prince of the Yogyakarta Sultanate – who despite the curse of the temple – paid it a visit in 1757. Upon returning to his palace after the Borobudur visit, he fell ill and died the very next day.

Rediscovery

Borobudur was discovered for the first time by foreigners in the early 19th century, during the short British rule of the Dutch East Indies. The appointed Governor, General Thomas Stamford Raffles, had heard about a hidden temple in the jungle in central Java and he decided to investigate it.

He sent an expedition of around 200 men who managed to find the temple. In order to get a grasp of the sheer size of the temple, they were forced to clear it of vegetation and dig away loads of earth. Reports of the founding were sent back to the Governor, who ordered Borobudur to be fully revealed. The work on removing all the earth was finished in 1835.

Although fully exposed in all its beauty, appreciation of the site developed slowly and it served for some time largely as a source of souvenirs and income for “souvenir hunters” and thieves.

Early restoration

Borobudur started to receive some attention in the early 20th century, when a restoration project was initiated. Due to the limited budget, the restoration was primarily focused on cleaning the sculptures.

During this restoration, it was discovered that three of the Buddhist temples in the region; Borobudur, Pawon and Mendut, are lined in one straight line position.

Buddhist tradition

According to native folk tales, there used to be a brick-paved road with walls on both sides connecting Borobudur, Pawon and Mendutto each other. The three temples have similar architecture and ornamentation deriving from the same time period, which suggests that some ritual relationship existed between the three temples.

In order to honor this relationship, the pilgrims of today start their pilgrimage from Mendut and walk the distance to Pawon and Borobudur where they climb the temple.

UNESCO project

In the late 1960s, the rather newly formed Indonesian Government initiated a major restoration project in order to bring Borobudur back to its former glory. They requested help from the international community in order to renovate and protect Borobudur.

The Indonesian government and UNESCO then undertook the complete overhaul of the monument in a big restoration project between 1975 and 1982. The project involved more than 600 people and included improving the foundation, cleaning of all the carvings and also a new drainage system. These restorations saved the temple from slowly disintegrating and made Borobudur what it is today.

Why visit Borobudur ?

The massive Borobudur is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. In Indonesian, ancient temples are known as candi; thus “Borobudur Temple” is locally known as Candi Borobudur.

This amazing temple not only serves as a shrine to the Lord Buddha, but it is also a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. It also serves as Indonesia’s most visited site, as it attracts lots of travelers each year. No wonder – as it is one of the most fascinating temples ever built.

Design

Borobudur is a spectacular temple not to miss. The temple is essentially built as one massive stupa. A stupa is a Buddhist burial mound for Buddhist leaders and holy relics. According to the Buddhist cosmology, there are three stages of mental preparation.

Each one of these preparations is linked to one of the many worlds or “planes” that exists within Buddhism. Borobudur is based around these three stages of mental preparation where each platform represents one of the three stages of mental preparation.

The platforms

The temple has a total of nine platforms, of which the lower six are square and the upper three are circular. The first platform, the base, represents Kāmadhātu – the world of desires. The rest of the square platforms represent Rupadhatu – the world of forms and the upper three circular platforms, together with the main stupa, represent the formless world – Arupadhatu.

Stunning relief

The walls on the lower platforms are covered in beautiful relief panels, depicting stories from Buddhism. The main part shows the descent of the Lord Buddha from the Tushita heaven and ends with his first sermon. The panels on the wall are read from right to left, while on the balustrade read from left to right. This conforms with the ritual performed by pilgrims who move climb the temple in a clockwise direction while keeping the sanctuary to their right.

The stupas

At the upper circular levels, visitors to Borobudur will find seventy-two small stupas surrounding one large central stupa. Visitors paying close attention to these stupas will see that they are decorated in different ways.

The outer levels have diamond shaped holes, while the inner levels have square holes. The diamond shaped holes stands for instability, the square holes for stability and the main stupa is solid which stands for eternity. This one again refers to the formless world – Arupadhatu – and represents how the world of forms changes to the world of the formless.

Each stupa holds a Statue of Buddha – each one except the main stupa which is empty. Of the original 504 Buddha statues covering Borobudur, over 300 are damaged and 43 are missing. Since the monument’s discovery, Buddha heads have been stolen as collector’s items, which is the reason why many statues are headless.

The hidden foot

In 1885, a hidden structure under the base was accidentally discovered. When the “hidden foot” was fully reviled they say that it also contained reliefs which, like the base, describe the world of desire.

Only a small part of the hidden foot can be seen, as majority of the hidden foot is covered in a stone encasement, for which reason is unknown. The main theory however, is that the encasement base was constructed long ago to add extra weight to the base, as the original base might have been incorrectly designed.

Today, Borobudur is the single most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia with several million visitors each year.

Borobudur location

Borobudur is located on top of a small hill near the larger town of Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. For the exact location of Borobudur, check out the Location Map to the right.

Borobudur video gallery

Taj Mahal history

The story behind Taj Mahal started when the Mughal emperor to be, Shan Jahan, met a Persian nobles daughter, Arjumand Banu. They quickly fell in love and married five years later.

By then, Shan Jahan already had two wives, but Arjumand would become his favorite wife. When Shan Jahan became the emperor in 1628, he bestowed her with the title “Mumtaz Mahal” – meaning “Jewel of the Temple”.

Death of the Jewel

When Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth to their 14th child, in 1631, Shan Jahan was devastated. Some say ”The Taj” – as it is sometimes referred as – was built as a last request from his wife. Others say it was simply a way to honor her. Either way, Shan Jahan gave the order to build what would be one of the most magnificent tombs ever – one certainly worthy of his very own “Jewel of the Temple”.

Construction

One year after the death of his beloved wife, the construction of the Taj Mahal began. The name Taj Mahal further shows the emperors dedicating and love for his lost wife. “Taj” is a Hindu origin and means “crown” while “Mahal” refers to the title he bestowed his wife. Thus, “Taj Mahal” translates to “The Crown of Mahal”, which is certainly a fitting name.

The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia and over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. The work force was made up of over 20.000 men and Shan Jahan had the best sculptors, calligraphers and stonecutters from all over asia and the middle east recruited in order to build the Taj Mahal.

The main building was completed 26 years later, in 1648, and the whole building complex as such 1953.

Why visit Taj Mahal ?

The Taj Mahal is without a doubt the most iconic site in India. The building, with its white shining marble, is actually one of the most iconic destinations in the world. The Taj Mahal has been voted into “the seven wonders of the world”-list and is visited by millions of people each year.

The Taj complex

While many think Taj Mahal refers to the white marble mausoleum, Taj Mahal is actually the whole structural complex. The whole complex as such has a lot to offer. In order to enter the Taj Mahal one passes through the gateway building which leads into the garden.

The raised marble water tank between the gatehouse and the mausoleum is called “al Hawd al-Kawthar”, in reference to the “Tank of Abundance” promised to Muhammad – Prophet of Islam.In addition to the mausoleum, Taj Mahal is made up of a mosque to the west and a mimic building to the east. The eastern buildings purpose was to provide architectural balance or possibly serve as a guesthouse. Surrounding the main mausoleum stands four minarets.

These were used in traditional mosques to call Islamic faithful to prayer. While these towers were designed as working minarets, they further display the designer’s desire for perfect symmetry.

Design elements

The Taj Mahal architecture combines styles from Persian, Indian and Islamic designs. It is by many seen as the crown jewel of Muslim art in India. The dome, which has gotten the nickname “the onion dome” due to its looks, stands 35 meters tall. The dome is crowned by a bronze finial with Persian and Hindu decorative elements.The calligraphy and the other decorative elements found on the outside of the main building are some of the finest one can find. Much of the on the building are composed of varieties of Islamic calligraphy scripts, made of jasper or black marble, inlaid in white marble panels.

The writings often have influence form or are taken directly from passages in the Qur’an. The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads “O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.”

Mausoleum

Today, both Shan Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal rest inside the main building of Taj Mahal. One might think their sarcophagi are the ones located in the main chamber, but these are actually false graves.

Their real sarcophagi lie next to each other beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right and towards Mecca. Due to Muslim tradition forbidding elaborate decoration of graves, their graves are relatively plain and simple, in contrast to the tomb building surrounding them.

Taj Mahal location

The Taj Mahal is located in Agra, India. Agra is a historic town in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Agra was previously the capital of the Mughal Empire.

The closest route to Taj Mahal from afar is by airplane to Agra Airport, located about 12.5 km from city center. The region has a good road and railroad system. However, polluting vehicles are not allowed near Taj Mahal, so one needs to take an electric car or a carriage if one wants to get to Taj Mahal right away.

For the exact location of Taj Mahal, check out the Location Map to the right.

Taj Mahal video gallery