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The essence of the profound history of Agra has been captured in the various monuments and memorials that stand here. Here are some of the sites that take one to Agra's golden era.
Built by Mughal emperor Akbar in 1565 AD, Agra Fort is a majestic sandstone built as an ode to the magnificence of the Mughal empire. Encompassing within its 2.5-km-long enclosure walls a stunning imperial city, the fortress is shaped like a crescent, its eastern wall flanked by River Yamuna. It is said that the construction of the fort was originally begun by emperor Akbar, but completed by his grandson Shah Jahan, who added most of the marble monuments here. There were originally four gates for entrance, two of which were walled up and only one is open today – the Amar Singh gate. The first thing that captures one's attention as they enter is Jehangir (Jahangir) Mahal, a palace said to have been built by Akbar as the women’s quarters and named after his son, Jehangir (Jahangir). Simple and elegant, it is home to a large stone bowl upon which are carved Persian verses. Local lore holds that this bowl once contained rose water. Adjacent to Jehangir (Jahangir) Mahal lies the palace built for Jodha Bai, said to be Akbar’s favourite queen.
Agra Fort is widely considered to be a masterpiece of planning, design and construction. Some of its other internal structures include the stunning Moti Masjid, Diwan-i-Khas (hall of private audience) and Diwan-i-Aam (hall of public audience), once home to the legendary Peacock Throne that was eventually taken to Red Fort in Delhi when Shah Jahan shifted his capital there. There are two prominent mosques inside the fort - Nagina Masjid was built by Shah Jahan as a private mosque for the ladies of the court and Mina Masjid is believed to have been built by him solely for his own use.
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the creator of the Taj Mahal, said that the beauty of the monument made “the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes”. It has also been described as a “teardrop on the cheek of eternity” by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Every year, thousands of tourists from around the world make a beeline for this breathtakingly ethereal marble monument, considerd by many as the most beautiful building constructed by man. The monument was built as a memorial by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is one of the seven wonders of the world and is a monument of pride for not just Agra but also India.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is featured in almost all literature about India and is one of the most enduring images of the country. Its name is believed to have been drawn from the Persian language: ‘taj’ means crown and ‘mahal’ means palace, thus making this the palace of the crown. Interestingly, the queen it was built in memory of, originally named Arjumand Begum, held the name Mumtaz Mahal, which meant the crown of the palace. Although it is best known as a symbol of love, a grieving emperor’s ode to his deceased queen, another legend sees the Taj Mahal as an embodiment of Shah Jahan’s vision of kingship. The story goes that he sought to build something akin to heaven on earth, a spectacular, unbelievably beautiful monument that reinforced the power as well as the perceived divinity of the monarch as next only to the Almighty.
Overlooking the Khas Mahal inside the Agra Fort is the Anguri Bagh, a beautiful four-plot garden replete with stunning fountains. The floral patterns that once adorned the building made with white marble have faded over time but still exude charm.
It is an octagonal tower built by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. It was here that his son Aurungzeb imprisoned him till his death, with his daughter Jahanara Begum. It was constructed between 1631-40 and offers panoramic views of the famous Taj Mahal. The pavilion is also a beautiful sight and boasts a lotus tank with a fountain. It is inlaid with semi-precious stones.
As the tomb of the founder of the Radhasoami faith, this samadhi is visited by thousands of devotees. It is the mausoleum of Huzur Swamiji Maharaj, the founder of the Radhaswami Faith, and is also called the Soami Bagh Samadhi. The building is about 110 ft high and is made of white marbles. It boasts numerous pillars and fine pietra dura inlay work that is done on the inner walls. Near the mausoleum is Bhajan Ghar, which is the place where Soamiji Maharaj did his spiritual practices.
The mausoleum of Mughal emperor Akbar, Sikandra is a red sandstone and marble tomb built by the emperor himself, and finished by his son, Jehangir, in 1613. Akbar is believed to have selected the site of the tomb during his lifetime and planned the structure himself.
It is a symbol of the Mughal ruler’s philosophy and secular worldview, bringing together the finest in Hindu and Islamic architectures. It is also one of the most well-preserved monuments in the region, retaining most of its original glory. The tomb lies within a charbagh, which is a beautiful addition to the complex.
This unique red sandstone tomb was built in the memory of Mughal emperor Akbar's wife, Mariam-uz-Zamani Begum, also known as Hira Kunwari, Harka Bai or, most popularly, Jodha Bai. She was originally a Rajput princess, and was the first Rajput wife of emperor Akbar. While the Mughal ruler already had several other wives before he married her, she went on to become the mother of the heir to the Mughal throne, Jehangir. Jodha Bai was also referred to as the Queen Mother of Hindustan during Akbar’s reign as well as during the reign of her son, Jehangir.
The longest-serving Hindu empress in the history of the Mughal empire, she holds a significant position in the medieval history of India. Her marriage to emperor Akbar, while marking a radical step in terms of a cross-religion alliance, also marked the beginning of a gradual shift in Akbar’s religious as well as social principles and, subsequently, policy. As such, she holds the distinction of being a symbol of the Mughal empire’s religious tolerance during the reigns of her husband and her son, as well as its inclusive, egalitarian policies during the period. Her mausoleum lies barely a kilometre away from Akbar’s tomb in Sikandra, and is located near Fatehpur Sikri. It was built by emperor Jehangir in 1623.
This beautiful marble tomb is dedicated to Mirza Ghias Beg, the father of Mughal empress Nur Jahan. He was accorded the title of Itimad-ud-Daulah (pillar of the state) during his time at the Mughal court. The empress is believed to have commissioned the construction of the mausoleum in his memory between 1622 and 1628 AD.
The story goes that Mirza Ghias Beg was a poor Persian merchant who was on his way to India with his wife when she gave birth to a girl. Since the family was stricken with poverty, the parents decided to abandon the child, but were eventually forced to return to her after hearing her helpless cries. As it turned out, she was a bringer of good fortune to her family – they soon found a caravan that took them to the court of emperor Akbar. As the years passed, Beg rose to become a minister in the Mughal court, as well as a trusted treasurer. He continued to rise in the court even after Akbar’s demise, under the rein of emperor Jehangir, who bestowed him with the title of Itimad-ud-Daulah and eventually married his daughter. Located on the banks of River Yamuna, the structure exhibits strong Persian architectural influences, and is built entirely using white marble, inlaid with semi-precious stones. Local lore says that this edifice was considered by many a precursor for the Taj Mahal. This is why it is sometimes referred to as ‘Baby Taj’. The marble lattice screens, known as jaalis, lend to it a softer, more delicate air as compared to the red sandstone mausoleums that preceded it in the region. This is also the first Mughal structure to have used pietra dura work, as well as the first tomb to be built on the banks of River Yamuna. Chini-ka-Rauza and Mehtab Bagh are very close by, and a quick round up of all three spots can be done within a few hours.
Chini-ka-Rauza is believed to be the first structure in India to have been embellished extensively using glazed porcelain tiles, and is regarded by many as a significant landmark in Indo-Persian architecture. It is the mausoleum of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan's prime minister, Afzal Khan Aalmi, who was also known as Maula Shukrullah, Shirazi. The mausoleum was built in 1635 in Etmadpur and is just a kilometre away from the tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah. The monument is situated amid beautiful gardens, and is renowned for its blue glazed tiles. These tiles were made using porcelain, believed to have been brought from China. They were called ‘chini mitti’ (Chinese clay) at the time. While some of these are partially intact on the mausoleum’s façade, the interiors are fairly well-preserved, and feature floral designs that are unique to a signature Persian art style, which eventually found a home in Agra
The most striking feature of the structure is said to have been the tomb, which is now in ruins. Originally, it was round, very similar to the style of Afghani tombs.