Agra, a historically important town situated on the banks of the river Yamuna, reached the zenith of its importance when it was the capital of the Mughal Empire, during the 16th and 17th centuries. It now completes a popular tourist triangle spanning Delhi and Jaipur. The city of the Taj Mahal, Agra is situated 200 km south of Delhi, and is easily accessible by road, air as well as the Indian Railways.
The former President of U.S.A once remarked, “There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who have seen the Taj Mahal and love it and those who have not seen the Taj and love it.” And those words ring true for Taj Mahal lovers, the world over. Sitting in the presence of the Taj Mahal is a magical experience. Watching the sun rise over the Taj Mahal is like watching the genesis of a miracle. Seeing the sun disappear behind its large dome is the perfect way to end a special day. Sitting silently in the courtyard of the Taj, or in one of its large halls you can’t help but experience a strong feeling of wonder. And then you understand the hallowed ground it occupies amongst the seven other wonders of the world.
Looking back in time, and sifting through the annals of history, we find that Agra was a huge canvas depicting the glorious days of Mughal rule in India. It was one of the most important cities in the northern part of ancient India.
Agra was in the limelight for the first time in medieval history when Sikandar Lodhi, the ruler of Delhi, decided to shift his capital from Delhi to Agra in the 16th century. Later, Agra witnessed large-scale developmental work and it was at its zenith during the rule of Akbar and Shah Jahan
It was Shah Jehan who ordered the building of the Taj, in honor of his wife, Arjumand Banu who later became known as Mumtaz Mahal, the Distinguished of the Palace. Mumtaz and Shah Jehan were married in 1612 and, over the next 18 years, had 14 children together. The Empress used to accompany her husband in his military campaigns, and it was in 1630, in Burhanpur, that she gave birth to her last child and died in childbirth. So great was the Emperor’s love for his wife that he ordered the building of the most beautiful mausoleum on earth for her.
Although it is not known for sure who planned the Taj, the name of an Indian architect of Persian descent, Ahmad Lahori, has been cited in many sources. As soon as construction began in 1630, masons, craftsmen, sculptors, and calligraphers were summoned from Persia, the Ottoman Empire, and Europe to work on the masterpiece. The site was chosen near the Capital, Agra, on the southwest bank of the River Yamuna. The architectural complex is comprised of five main elements: the Darwaza (main gateway), the Bageecha (garden), the Masjid (mosque), the Naqqar Khana (rest house), and the Rauza or (Taj Mahal mausoleum). The actual Tomb is situated inside the Taj. This unique Mughal style of architecture combined elements of Persian, Central Asian, and Islamic architecture.
There are a few other tourist places near Agra, like Fatehpur Sikri, Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, Vrindavan, and Firozabad, that you can include in your tour itinerary. However, for most people in India, and the world over, Agra will remain the “City of the Taj Mahal”.