The marble of the Taj Mahal changes color as the light falling on it brightens and fades throughout the day. In this image, taken at sunrise, the building takes on a rosy hue.

A husband's love built the Taj Mahal—but cost him an empire

After the death of his beloved wife, Emperor Shah Jahan spared no expense building her grand mausoleum. His obsession became a monument to everlasting love but bankrupted the Mughal empire.

Color and light

The marble of the Taj Mahal changes color as the light falling on it brightens and fades throughout the day. In this image, taken at sunrise, the building takes on a rosy hue.
Michele Falzone/AWL Images

The Taj Mahal is not only the most iconic symbol of India’s Mughal emperors but one of the best-known works of art and architecture in the world. It is a lavish mausoleum commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan, the fifth ruler of the great Mughal dynasty, to house the body of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their 14th child.

The Mughals were a Muslim dynasty of Mongol origin whose founder, Babur, descended from Genghis Khan. “Mughal” is derived from the Persian for Mongol and the source of the English word “mogul.” From 1526 to 1857, the Mughals ruled an empire that, at its peak in the late 1600s, was the largest and wealthiest on Earth. Mughal lands once extended from present-day Iran and Afghanistan to Pakistan and Uzbekistan, including almost all of the Indian subcontinent. The Mughals were known for their military prowess, financial and trading skills, intermittent religious tolerance of non-Islamic faiths, and love of the arts.

Over the centuries, the Taj Mahal (Persian for “crown palace”) has endured as a site of religious pilgrimage and a romantic destination for lovers. In 1983 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site, and in 2007 it was chosen by people voting on six continents as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. 

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