Agra, beyond the Taj Mahal

6 May 2016

Agra, beyond the Taj Mahal

Heading to India? No doubt you'll spend time in Agra, home to the beauty that is the Taj Mahal. Whilst it is truly remarkable, there is plenty more to see in Agra. Ronan give us his first-hand experience.

It is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, a building so magnificent that it’s famous in almost every corner of the Earth. Tourists could be forgiven then, for having nothing else on their minds when they visit Agra than “Taj Mahal”.

I speak from experience – on my first visit to this Indian city my time was dominated by the Taj. I booked a hotel by its entrance, wandered for hour after hour through its beautiful grounds, and spent my evening either talking about the Taj Mahal with friends or editing the colossal amount of photos I had taken of it.


When I returned to Agra two years later I managed to broaden my focus beyond this beguiling building and was rewarded for doing so. This city of two million people in Uttar Pradesh State may have been put on the map in a global sense by the Taj Mahal, but it has many other enchanting attractions.

Before the Taj Mahal was even completed in 1653, Agra already was renowned throughout the subcontinent as the capital of the Mughal Empire. From 1556 to 1658 it served as the hub of this mighty Empire, which stretched its power far and wide to control areas which are now parts of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

It was during the Mughal reign that some of the subcontinent’s most remarkable buildings were erected, including Delhi’s Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Humayun’s Tomb, Lahore Fort and the Tomb of Jahangir in Pakistan, and the Moti Masjid and Agra Fort in Agra.

This unmistakable Mughal style of design incorporated elements of Persian, Islamic and Indian architecture. The UNESCO Heritage Listed Agra Fort is a prime example of the Mughal style, with its symmetrical design, intricate stonework, decorative domes, sprawling courtyards, and bright red sandstone walls marked by turrets and ramparts.


The Fort was constructed not long after the Mughal Empire made its base in Agra, creating within its thick, lofty walls a cosmopolitan city by the banks of the Yamuna River. Located just over 2km from the Taj Mahal, it is an enormous, intimidating structure, covering 94 acres of land, which long kept its residents safe.

Four grand gates offer access to its interior, with the imposing Delhi Gate on its Western side particularly incredible, its sandstone façade inlaid with marble. Within the Fort’s walls are a range of beautiful buildings. These include the Moti Masjid, the Diwan-i-Khas public audience hall, and the residences of the Khas Mahal and Jahangiri Mahal

The Mahas Mahal was the Palace of the Emperor, an opulent building rich with marble and decorated with a plethora of intricately-craved columns and archways. Like most of the structures within the Red Fort it has been wonderfully well preserved and remains a breathtaking sight centuries after it was built.

The women of the Emperor’s family lived in the nearby Jahangiri Mahal, a huge sandstone palace embellished by geometric and floral patterns. The residents of the Fort worshipped at the Moti Masjid, also known as the Pearl Mosque.


While the mosque is actually constructed from sandstone, its façade was entirely finished in white marble, offering it a truly dramatic appearance. Age may have dulled the lustre of the marble, but the mosque’s domes, ornamental arches and calligraphy inscriptions ensure it is still an impressive structure.

Such is the size of Agra Fort, visitors could almost spend an entire day absorbing its grandeur and inspecting its myriad sections. Time should be left aside, however, to cross the river to see the Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah. The Tomb is also known as the “Baby Taj” because it was considered to have been the inspiration for the design of Agra’s most famous attraction when it was built in the 1620s.

It is far from a poor man’s Taj Mahal, however, boasting its own unique style and fascinating history. Passing through its walls, beneath its fine entry gate, visitors enter a large, open garden. At its centre is the tomb, concealed within a stunning white marble building, cornered by four decorative minarets. While it looks gorgeous from a distance it is even more amazing up close, a vantage which reveals the precious stones which are inlaid into the marble forming elaborate designs. Like the Red Fort, this Tomb is in itself worth a visit to Agra. The Taj Mahal is indisputably extraordinary, but there is so much more to this city.