Around a dozen of us were treated to a well-researched presentation by Ken and Jill Taylor on the construction of the Taj Mahal. Sitar music set the scene and with the aid of a plethora of photographs (a few of which I reproduce here) Ken talked us through the inception, construction and history of this iconic building.
In 1631, the favourite of the three wives of Emperor Shah Jahan died giving birth to their 14th child. Utterly grief-stricken he commissioned the building of a mausoleum for her and work on the Taj Mahal began the following year continuing for another 12 years. Although in the Islamic world at the time architects were rarely credited, it is thought that two architects – Ustad Ahmad Lahauri and Mir Abd-ul Karim – were responsible for most of the design and construction.
The riverbank location proved to be the first challenge and to provide a strong foundation for such a large building augured piles made of timber, rubble, iron and mortar had to be sunk.
Constructed using materials from all over India and Asia with a facade of white marble inlaid with intricate symmetrical designs formed from 28 types of precious and semi-precious stones, the building now attracts close to 3 million visitors each year.
It comprises four floors; the lower basement storey containing the tombs of Mumtaz and Jahan, the entrance storey containing identical but more ornate cenotaphs of the tombs below (Muslim tradition forbids the elaborate decoration of graves), an ambulatory storey and a roof terrace.
The marble dome that surmounts the tomb is its most spectacular feature with a height of about 35 metres. It is topped by a ‘gilded’ finial which mixes traditional Islamic and Hindu decorative elements.
In the second half of the meeting, we watched a further instalment from the Great Courses series on Architecture. The video set out to explain, very well as it turned out, the stresses and strains inherent in various types of structures.
In all, a very enjoyable and informative meeting.