Hyderabad's iconic landmark, the 56-m-high Charminar is an imposing four-sided archway with four minarets soaring above its surrounding bustling market area. It was built in 1591 by Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah, who was the fifth king of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, to mark the founding of Hyderabad and the end of a plague that had devastated the city.

Each side of the structure faces a cardinal direction and has a pointed arch. These arches support a gallery of archways and two floors of rooms. The square structure of the monument measures about 20 m to a side and at each corner is a minaret that rises to a height of 24 m. Each of the four minarets (leading to the structure's name Charminar or four minarets) houses 149 circular steps. The minarets stand on a lotus-leaf base, which is a recurrent motif in the Qutub Shahi style of buildings. The Charminar has been built in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. The materials used are granite and lime mortar.

The first floor of the monument was used as a madarasa (college) during the Qutub Shahi times. The second floor houses a mosque, which is the oldest mosque in the city, on its western side. The dome of this majestic mosque can be seen from the road from quite a distance. One can climb to the first floor for a view of the old bazaar with its labyrinthine lanes. The upper portions are not open to the public. Stucco decorations, intricate motifs, balustrades and balconies are the hallmarks of its design.

In 1889, four clocks facing the four cardinal directions were added to the monument. At night (from 7 to 9 pm), the illuminated Charminar is a stunning vision, pitted against the dark sky. Charminar is not just an architectural icon of Hyderabad. It reflects the city's royal soul, the nature of its laid-back lifestyle and in its shadow Hyderabad's heritage lives on.

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