Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are learning about the famous Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
The Taj Mahal is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and is widely recognized as 'The jewel of Muslim art in India'. It is one of the world's most celebrated structures and a symbol of India's rich history. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, the Taj Mahal attracts some 3 million visitors a year. The photographer spend almost 5 hours on the location of this white masterpiece visiting and photographing this marveolous building in India.
The Taj Mahal is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and is widely recognized as 'The jewel of Muslim art in India'. It is one of the world's most celebrated structures and a symbol of India's rich history. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, the Taj Mahal attracts some 3 million visitors a year. The photographer spend almost 5 hours on the location of this white masterpiece visiting and photographing this marveolous building in India.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on May 9, 2024

Taj Mahal – A monument of love in India

Standing majestically on the banks of the Yamuna River, the Taj Mahal is synonymous to love and romance. The Taj Mahal from Persian and Arabic, 'Crown of palaces', is a white marble mausoleum located on the southern bank of Yamuna River in the Indian city of Agra. In 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal empire's period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when his favorite of three wives and beloved companion, Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess, died during the birth of their 14th child, Gauhara Begum. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan reigned in the years from 1628 to 1658 and wanted a place to house the tomb of his favorite wife of three, Mumtaz Mahal.

What is inside the Taj Mahal?

Inside the Taj Mahal, the cenotaphs honoring Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are enclosed in an 8-sided chamber ornamented with 'Pietra dura', which is an inlay with semi-precious stones and a marble lattice screen. But the gorgeous monuments are just for show. The real 'Sarcophagi' are in a quiet room below, at garden level.

Photographing the Taj Mahal in Agra
Many people are asking why is the Taj Mahal considered as a symbol of undying love? Maharajah Shah Jahan spotted Mumtaz Mahal at the marketplace in his royal complex. It was love at first sight and he quickly made her his third wife. Mumtaz Mahal traveled with Shah Jahan throughout India as his chief companion and beloved advisor. After bearing him 14 children, Mumtaz died, leaving the Maharajah devastated. He then decided to build her an everlasting memorial and resting place, looking to the Koran for inspiration. Taking inspiration from its detailed description of heaven, Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal.

To ensure that no other living structure would ever rival the beauty of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan made an agreement with the building's artists. In exchange for a hefty payment, they would not create anymore art or design in their lifetime. Hearing the effort that Shah Jahan expended on behalf of his wife, the photographer was filled with a enthusiasm as he stepped through the gate with his camera, he could not help but gasp.

The Taj Mahal conjures heaven
Rising up towards the clouds, the stark white of the building pierced the blue sky. The Taj Mahal conjures heaven, but it was actually the craftmanship that astounded him and the walls of the building were so delicately carved, that they almost resembled an impressionist painting. Despite the huge crowds that filled the wonder, the photographer felt a strange calm fall over him. The Taj Mahal may receive millions of visitors per year, but its garden setting somehow manages to remain peaceful. Birds flew overhead, the soft flowing water in the front pools glinted in the sunlight and a light breeze rustled ever so gently through the greenery and the building seems to glow in the light of the full moon. On a foggy morning, the visitors experience the Taj as if suspended when viewed from across the Yamuna River as seen on Smithsonian Magazine.

"Taj Mahal is considered as one of the 7 wonders of the world and some western historians have noted that its architectual beauty has never been surpassed. Its stunning architectual beauty is beyond adequate description, particurlarly at dawn and sunset. Once inside, the ornamental gardens are set out along classical Mughal charbagh, formal Persian garden, lines, a square quartered by watercourses, with an ornamental marble plinth at its centre. When the fountains are not flowing, the Taj is beautifully reflected in the water"

An immense mausoleum of white marble
The Taj Mahal is built on a parcel of land to the south of the walled city of Agra. Shah Jahan presented Maharajah Jai Singh with a large palace in the center of Agra in exchange for the land. An area of roughly 12,000 m2 was excavated, filled with dirt to reduce seepage and leveled at 50 meters above riverbank. In the tomb area, wells were dug and filled with stone and rubble to form the footings of the tomb. Instead of lashed bamboo, workmen constructed a colossal brick scaffold that mirrored the tomb. The scaffold was so enormous that foremen estimated it would take years to dismantle. The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia.

If you have ever seen the beautiful Taj Mahal in Agra, India, you know it is a masterpiece of engineering and artistry. But one component of the construction that often goes overlooked is the marble that was used. The marble for the Taj Mahal was sourced mostly from the Makrana quarries in Rajasthan, but some was also sourced from Selja and Jaisalmer. The state of Rajasthan has an abundance of high-quality marble, with its highest grade being the Makrana marble. It is known for being one of the hardest and most durable marbles available and has been used for centuries.

"Makrana marble has an almost glass-like appearance with subtle white veins that run throughout the stone. It was this beautiful white marble that was chosen by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to be used in his masterpiece, the Taj Mahal. The marble was used for the entire exterior of the building, as well as for many of its highly ornate interior details. Because of the quality of the marble and the skill of the workers, the Taj Mahal has stood, unchanged, for hundreds of years with no signs of deterioration. The marble has also gained a beautiful patina over time, creating a soft sheen that is unmatched by any other structure in the world. Today, Makrana marble is still being used in India to build incredible monuments and buildings. The material's quality and availability make it an ideal choice for many projects. But none of these projects will ever match the beauty and skill of Shah Jahan's masterpiece, the Taj Mahal"

The intricate and exquisite design of the Taj Mahal
Tthe result of many genres of Indian architecture is blended together into one harmonious structure. The majestic palace is made using a combination of both Muslim and Hindu styles. The overall design of the building is symmetrical, with 4 tall 'Minarets' framing the majestic facade and a delicate white marble dome that symbolizes the Mughal dynasty's commitment to their beliefs. The most impressive feat of the Taj Mahal's design is the intricate delicacy of its carvings and decorative elements. Each corner of the edifice is adorned with intricate carvings made from marble, semi-precious stones, precious metals and enameled blue and gold accents made from onyx and jade. The ornamentation is so detailed that no two elements are exactly the same – and if looked upon from afar, the result is truly breathtaking.

Even after centuries, the Taj Mahal continues to captivate visitors from around the world with its stunning and intricate design. It is a reminder of a once powerful empire and a testament to the love between the two who will never be forgotten and it stands as one of the most iconic monuments in the world.

It is believed over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. The translucent white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, 28 types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.

According to the legend, Shah Jahan decreed that anyone could keep the bricks taken from the scaffold and thus it was dismantled by peasants overnight. A 15 kilometer tamped-earth ramp was built to transport marble and materials to the construction site and teams of 20 or 30 oxen pulled the blocks on specially constructed wagons. An elaborate post-and-beam pulley system was used to raise the blocks into desired position. Water was drawn from the river by a series of purs, an animal-powered rope and bucket mechanism, into a large storage tank and raised to a large distribution tank. It was passed into three subsidiary tanks, from which it was piped to the complex.

Duration of the constructionof the Taj Mahal
The plinth and tomb took roughly 12 years to complete, the Photographer learned. The remaining parts of the complex took an additional 10 years and were completed in order of 'Minarets', mosque and jawab and gateway and since the complex was built in stages, discrepancies exist in completion dates due to differing opinions on completion. 4 'Minarets' are surrounding the mausoleum of the Taj Mahal and these minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth so that in the event of collapse, a typical occurrence with many tall constructions of the period, the material from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb.

Construction work of the Taj Mahal
Construction of the mausoleum itself was essentially completed by 1643 while work continued on the outlying buildings. Estimates of the cost of construction vary due to difficulties in estimating costs across time and the total cost has been estimated to be about ₹32 million Indian rupees, which is around ₹52.8 billion Indian rupees based on nowadays values. From far away you could only see the entire structure, but up close and you focus on the tiny swirling details. The construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632 comissioned by the emperor himself and the court chronicles of Shah Jahan's grief illustrate the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal and the principal mausoleum was completed in 1643 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished about 5 years later.

"The central Taj structure is made of semitranslucent white marble, carved with flowers and inlaid with thousands of semiprecious stones in beautiful patterns. The domed marble tomb is part of an integrated complex consisting of gardens and two red-sandstone buildings surrounded by a crenellated wall on three sides"

Transcending culture and geography
Ever since its construction, the building has been the source of an admiration transcending culture and geography and so personal and emotional responses have consistently eclipsed scholastic appraisals of the monument. A longstanding myth holds that Shah Jahan planned a mausoleum to be built in black marble as a Black Taj Mahal across the Yamuna River.

Reopening of the Taj Mahal in 2020
Agra's Taj Mahal has been reopening its doors to visitors on September 21, where only 5,000 tourists will be allowed to visit the Taj Mahal per day and this was the first time that the Taj Mahal was closed for such a long period of time. As the photographer found out it was closed on March 17 before the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of 'Covid-19' was announced. Most tourists visit in the cooler months of October, November and February and polluting traffic is not allowed near the complex and tourists must either walk from parking areas or catch an electric bus. 'The Khawasspuras' which are the northern courtyards are currently being restored for use as a new visitor centre.

Overtourism in India
In order to address overtourism, the site instituted fines for visitors who stayed longer than three hours. Overtourism is the perceived congestion or overcrowding from an excess of tourists, resulting in conflicts with locals. It has been defined as the impact of tourism on a destination or parts thereof, that excessively influences perceived quality of life of citizens and or quality of visitor experiences in a negative way. This definition shows how overtourism can be observed both among locals, who view tourism as a disruptive factor that increasingly burdens daily life, as well as visitors, who may regard high numbers of tourists as a nuisance. The term has only been used frequently since 2015, but is now the most commonly used expression to describe the negative impacts ascribed to tourism.

Overtourism is observed mostly, but not exclusively, when the number of visitors to a destination or parts thereof, grows rapidly in a short space of time. Also, it is most common in areas where visitors and residents share a physical space. In recent years, developments within tourism and outside of tourism have increased contact between residents and visitors and made the impacts of tourism more noticeable. After remaining closed for 6 months.

"The Taj Mahal, a breathtaking architectural masterpiece and a symbol of love, is one of the most iconic and recognizable buildings in the world. Located in the city of Agra, India, this mausoleum attracts millions of tourists every year, making it one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country. However, the current condition of the Taj Mahal is a cause for concern, as it faces numerous challenges that threaten its integrity"

A jewel of love enduring the test of time and corrosion
Nestled along the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra, India, the Taj Mahal stands as a magnificent ode to eternal love and architectural brilliance. However, behind its ethereal beauty lies a silent adversary – corrosion – a challenge that threatens to mar its present condition.

"Recognized as one of the new 7 wonders of the world following a global poll in 2000, the Taj Mahal's pristine white marble has gradually transformed into a greenish-brown hue. The deterioration of the Taj Mahal's appearance has notably escalated over the last two decades, attributed to the compounding effects of increasing pollution levels and widespread incineration of waste"

Commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century, the Taj Mahal is a symbol of undying love for his cherished wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Its construction, spanning over two decades, was a labour of love and devotion. Today, this iconic monument continues to captivate hearts worldwide, drawing visitors to witness its grandeur. Yet, the passage of centuries has left its mark on the Taj Mahal. The once pristine white marble, renowned for its dazzling luminescence, now bears the subtle signs of corrosion. The effects of pollution, both airborne and from the adjacent Yamuna River, have gradually taken their toll on the marble surfaces.

The plinth of the Taj Mahal, the sturdy foundation upon which it rests, serves as a crucial element in its preservation. Crafted with meticulous care, the plinth has stood firm against the test of time, providing unwavering support to this architectural marvel.

However, the threat to the Taj Mahal's beauty persists. Airborne pollutants, stemming from industrial activities and vehicular traffic, settle on its delicate surfaces, accelerating the process of corrosion. The marble, once smooth and pristine, now bears the weathered traces of pollutants and environmental factors. Moreover, the menace of acid rain poses a significant risk to the intricate carvings and exquisite details of the Taj Mahal. Each droplet of acidic precipitation that touches the marble surface contributes to its gradual erosion, threatening the very essence of its timeless allure.

In the face of these challenges, dedicated efforts are underway to safeguard the Taj Mahal's legacy. Conservationists employ innovative techniques, such as mud packs and chemical treatments, to cleanse and protect the marble from further corrosion.

The Taj Mahal is facing is environmental pollution
Located in a bustling city, the monument is constantly exposed to air pollution from vehicles, industries and solid waste. The air pollution has caused a yellowing of the pristine white marble, which is one of the main features of the Taj Mahal. The pollution also leads to the formation of black crusts on the walls, which not only mars the beauty of the monument but also damages the delicate carvings. Moreover, the Yamuna River, which flows next to the Taj Mahal, is heavily polluted with industrial waste and sewage, posing a threat to the foundation of the monument. The polluted river water also affects the underground structure of the Taj Mahal, leading to corrosion of the marble and weakening the foundation. As the river continues to deteriorate, the Taj Mahal’s foundation becomes more vulnerable, putting this architectural wonder at risk.

Another challenge facing the Taj Mahal is also the overcrowding as mentioned above. With millions of visitors each year, the monument is under immense pressure from the heavy footfall. The constant flow of tourists, along with their activities such as touching and scratching the walls, has had a significant impact on the structure and beauty of the Taj Mahal. The marble has been worn down in certain areas and the fragile minarets have been affected by the vibrations caused by the footsteps of visitors. To tackle these issues, the Indian government has taken several steps. The most significant of these is the closure of nearby industries and the implementation of strict pollution control measures.

Efforts have been made at the Taj Mahal
Measures have also been taken to reduce the number of visitors by limiting the number of tickets issued per day and increasing the entry fee to the monument. The government has also launched a cleaning and restoration project to revive the original color of the marble and repair the damage caused by pollution and overcrowding. Despite these efforts, many environmentalists and conservationists believe that more needs to be done to protect the Taj Mahal. They suggest enforcing stricter pollution control laws and reducing vehicle traffic around the monument. Some organizations have also proposed using an air purifying coating on the marble to protect it from further damage.

"The current condition of the Taj Mahal is a cause for concern. Environmental pollution, overcrowding and the deteriorating condition of the Yamuna River are posing a great risk to this iconic monument. While the Indian government is taking measures to address these issues, it is crucial to have a long-term sustainable plan in place to preserve the Taj Mahal for future generations. As responsible citizens, it is our duty to ensure that this wonder of the world continues to stand tall and stand the test of time"

See this video from the Taj Mahal made by Hindustan Times.

The enduring love story that inspired its creation
As visitors from around the world continue to be mesmerized by the Taj Mahal's timeless beauty, they are reminded of the enduring love story that inspired its creation. The romance of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, immortalized in this architectural masterpiece, continues to weave its magic through the ages. Yet, amidst the marvel of its beauty, the Taj Mahal serves as a poignant reminder of the fragility of our world's treasures. The threat of corrosion, compounded by environmental factors, underscores the need for concerted preservation efforts.

In the embrace of the Taj Mahal's elegant domes and graceful 'Minarets', we find a beacon of love and resilience. It is a reminder that, despite the challenges of time and corrosion, the enduring spirit of love and devotion will continue to shine brightly, preserving the Taj Mahal as a cherished symbol of romance and architectural splendor for generations to come.

The photographer's own experience of the Taj Mahal
"- The Taj Mahal itself stands on a raised marble platform at the northern end of the ornamental gardens, with its back to the Yamuna River. Its raised position means that the backdrop is only sky, a masterstroke of design and as a photographer, this famous building has been on on the photographer's bucket list for a long time. One of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences was capturing the majestic beauty of the Taj Mahal. As one of the most iconic landmarks in the world, I knew I had to do justice to its grandeur. But with crowds of tourists flooding in and the ever-changing light, it was no easy feat. However, after hours of patience and perfect timing, I was able to capture the Taj Mahal in all its glory", the Photographer says.

"- It is near impossible to visit Agra, India without being moved by the remarkable beauty of the Taj Mahal. This iconic monument combines stunning architecture, intricate craftsmanship, breathtaking attention to detail and a captivating history that has captivated visitors for centuries. The Taj Mahal was designed by famed courtier Ustad Ahmad Lahauri in the 17th century at the request of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who wanted a monument to the memory of his beloved late wife Mumtaz Mahal. As such, it is a stunning symbol of the undying love shared between the two"
, the Photographer says again.

"- I remember arriving to Agra the evening before I paid a visit to the Taj Mahal. It was a amazing to know that one of the 7 wonders of the world was just located in a short distance to where I was staying for the night. In the morning when I was standing outside one of the gates from where I could see the Taj Mahal, I could see it almost glow as something extraordinary from a view before I could see the building completely. It is definitely one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen and I spend almost 5 hours at the Taj Mahal and the Taj Garden, to get sure that I got all the photographs that I wanted and was looking for. As you can see the Taj is inhemmed by 4 towers, the so-called 'Minarets', which have been open to the public. But since a suicide currently occured from one of the towers, all the towers are now closed", the Photographer says again.

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More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of the Taj Mahal in Agra. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.