Marvels of the Mughals
You have traveled all the way to see the Taj Mahal—now what? Fortunately, the city of Agra is dotted with spellbinding architecture
- By Megan Gambino
- Smithsonian.com, August 17, 2011
Tomb of Akbar in Sikandra near Agra in Uttra Pradesh region of India. (© Steve Allen Travel Photography / Alamy)
Akbar the Great was a patron of the arts and a religiously tolerant leader who effectively combined disparate fiefdoms into a cohesive empire that controlled the Indian subcontinent for hundreds of years. Designing a fitting resting place for such a highly esteemed emperor would be a challenge. Luckily, Akbar weighed in on the plans. Construction of the tomb complex began in 1602, three years before dysentery took the emperor’s life, and was completed by his son Jahangir around 1613. Just six miles north of Agra in a suburb called Sikandra, the grounds take the form of a square, walled garden, with the tomb in its center. Four paved pathways, with narrow channels of water set into them to represent the four rivers of paradise, lead from gates in the center of each wall to the tomb. They divide the space into four quadrants, in the style of a charbagh, or Persian garden (“char” means four and “bagh,” garden, in Persian).
The tomb itself is five stories high and resembles a stepped pyramid, with each level smaller than the previous one. Most of the building is made of the area’s red sandstone, but the top floor is a pavilion with latticed walls of carved white marble. Akbar’s tomb subscribes to Mughal tradition, in that is has a cenotaph, or “empty tomb,” on its highest story for the public to visit, while the actual sarcophagus is buried in a private crypt in the basement.