World Heritage - Taj Mahal

Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Cultural heritage and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located. For this year's World Heritage stamp series, the United Nations Postal Administration has chosen to feature the Taj Mahal in India.

The Taj Mahal, located in the Agra District in Uttar Pradesh, India is widely recognized as "the jewel of Muslim art in India" and is considered one of the most universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage.

In 1631 Shah Jahan, Emperor during the Mughal empire's period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess, died during the birth of their 14th child. The court chronicles of Shah Jahan's grief illustrate the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal. Construction of the complex began in 1632.The principal mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later.

For its construction an international team of several thousands of masons, stone-cutters, marble workers, mosaicists, painters, calligraphers, dome builders and other artisans were requisitioned from the whole of the empire and also from the Central Asia and Iran. They worked under the orders of the Ustad-Ahmad Lahori, who was the main architect of the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is regarded by many as the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Islamic, Persian, Ottoman, Turkish and Indian architectural styles. The tomb is the central focus of the entire complex. This large, white marble structure stands on a square platform and consists of a symmetrical building with an arch-shaped doorway topped by a large dome and finial. The main chamber houses the false tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan - the actual graves are at a lower level.

The marble dome that surmounts the tomb is the most spectacular feature. Its height of around 35 metres is about the same as the base of the building. The top of the dome is decorated with a lotus design, which also serves to accentuate its height. The shape of the dome is emphasized by four smaller domes placed at its corners, which replicate the onion shape of the main dome. The dome is topped by a gilded finial, which mixes traditional Persian and Hindustani decorative elements. At the corners of the base are four minarets, which are each more than 40 metres tall.

The exterior and interior decorations of the Taj Mahal are among the finest to be found in Mughal architecture of any period. Throughout the complex, passages from the Qur'an are used as decorative elements.

The Taj Mahal was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. This remarkable structure's enduring aesthetic quality represents a timeless testimony to the love of Jahan for his beloved wife.