As one of the most iconic and photographed locations in the world, the Taj Mahal has captured eyes and hearts for centuries. Located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, this magnificent piece of architecture is one of the New7Wonders Of The World. Though it’s immediately recognizable by people all over the world, this marble masterpiece may not be as one-of-a-kind as we think. It is believed to have a twin—the mythical Black Taj Mahal.
Twin Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal we admire today was constructed over a period of approximately seventeen years, with the work beginning around 1631 A.D. The stunning mausoleum of pure white marble was built by emperor Shah Jahan of the Mughals to honor his beloved wife and queen Arjumand Bano Begum, also known as Mumtaz Mahal, the tomb’s namesake. Boasting beautiful gardens and a mosque, this vast complex is fit for an emperor. After admiring his wife’s tribute, Shah Jahan is said to have planned a second building in the Taj Mahal’s image to have for himself.
Supposedly, it was going to mirror the design of the breathtaking original, but with one notable difference—the colors would be flipped. Instead of white marble, the edifice would be stark black. Planned to be built on the opposite side of the river Yamuna, it would have allowed the emperor and his beloved to rest across from each other in marvelous matching monuments of marble.
Of course, the Taj Mahal is a popular tourist destination, visited by eager travelers from all over the world. But what happened to the legendary Black Taj?
The Truth Is Out There
The first mentions of the supposed monument were found in the writings of Jean Baptiste Tavernier, who visited the area around the time of the Taj Mahal’s construction while working on his Les Six Voyages De Jean Baptiste Tavernier. In the publication, he wrote that the construction of the mysterious black tomb had begun sometime between 1640 and 1655 A.D. At this time, the emperor was locked in deep conflict with his children. It’s understandable, then, that any ambitious building projects Shah Jahan may have had to celebrate himself would have come to an abrupt end.
After being deposed and imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in Agra Fort, it is said that he spent his last few years as a prisoner, gazing at the Taj Mahal from his prison window. Shah Jahan died in 1666 A.D. and was entombed with his late queen, Mumtaz Muhal.
In the early 1870s, archaeologist A.C.L. Carlleyle believed he had discovered the ruins of the Black Taj Mahal’s foundations, but they proved to be nothing more than the remnants of a pond. Over a century later, the once-majestic Mahtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden) and the surrounding area had almost entirely been reclaimed by nature. Any further evidence, had any ever existed, has been made that much more difficult to unearth.
Upon the emperor’s death, his cenotaph was placed alongside that of Mumtaz Mahal, though the proportions of the two were very different. With a building as meticulously designed as the Taj Mahal, nothing tends to be left asymmetrical by design. Perhaps the emperor’s remains may never have been intended to find a home alongside his wife.
In whatever rudimentary state the Black Taj Mahal existed, no concrete evidence seems to exist. There are no solid contemporary accounts of the proposed project beyond the words of Tavernier. Shah Jahan had given orders that the Mahtab Bagh be altered and considered part of the Taj Mahal, so there’s a possibility that the Black Taj Mahal may have been intended for this area, though there’s nothing conclusive. Archaeologists have thoroughly combed the area over the years, and the only black marble found was in small quantities believed to have simply been white marble that had aged.
The true status of the mysterious Black Taj Mahal is impossible to ascertain. Shah Jahan may never have constructed a glorious mausoleum of his own, but his memory is immortalized in the ambiguity.
By Chris Littlechild, contributor for Ripleys.com