Visit the well-preserved 16th-century Agra Fort, also known as the Red Fort. Located on the west banks of the Yamuna River about a mile from the Taj Mahal, the fort as built during the rule of emperors Akbar, his son Shah Jahan and grandson Aurangzeb. Originally a walled city built in the Mughal style, it has an impressive 72-foot high wall enclosing the grounds.
For a mere 14 years, the "ghost city" of Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal Empire. Decreed in 1571 by Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri was built to honor Salim Chishti, a saint who famously predicted that the then-heirless Akbar would have a son. Abandoned in short time due to chronic water shortages, it remains a beautiful example of traditional Mughal architecture, whose edifices of red sandstone fuse elements from Central Asia, Persia, and India itself. Fatehpur Sikri is about 25 miles outside of Agra.
Jami Masjid in Fatehpur Sikri is where Salim Chishti’s magnificent, white-marble tomb is located. The saint died in 1571 and the building was completed in 1580, although marble screens enclosing the verandah were added by Jahangir’s (the emperor’s first son) foster brother in 1606. Today, Hindu and Muslim women alike pray at the shrine inside for the blessing of children – more evidence of the pan-religious aspects of Fatehpur Sikri.
Visit Mehtab Bagh, or Moonlight Garden, situated across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal. Built at the same time as the Taj, Mehtab Bagh is a Persian-style quadrilateral garden whose design mirrors the approach to the Taj. Neglected for centuries, Mehtab Bagh was restored beginning in the 1990s; today visitors can once again experience what was originally an integral part of the whole Taj complex.
The Taj Mahal is nothing less than one of mankind's greatest architectural feats. Built out of white marble by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631, the Taj was erected by 20,000 laborers over a 12-year period, in the process nearly bankrupting the Mughal empire. At its heart are two fascinating ironies: a Muslim monument that is perhaps the foremost symbol of nation that is 80 percent Hindu; and the world’s most famous example of funerary architecture– the Taj is in fact a tomb – built by an empire whose religion forbade such memorials.
The entire monument, including the four grand minarets built at slightly oblique angles – in order to appear at 90 degrees when viewed from a distance – is a masterpiece of symmetry, with one exception that emperor Shah Jahan did not foresee: he was eventually entombed, off-center, beside Mumtaz Mahal.