Agra is located about 139 miles southeast of Delhi along the west bank of the River Jumna. Located between Mathura and Surajpur, and referred to by Greek historians as Methoras and Cleisobora, Agra was part of the Surasena Empire, with Mathura as the capital. Geographically, Agra is centrally located in northern India, imbuing it with political and commercial strategic advantage. Many battles have been fought for control of the city, and it became the capital city during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The fortified core composed by the Agra Fort originally served the Rajputs, as an impregnable, protective, screen against invasions. It finally fell in 1081 to Mahmud Shah, the governor of the northwest regions and the Punjab. Jaipal, then the Rajput ruler, defended the fort valiantly but surrendered to the Ghaznavid army when reinforcements failed to arrive. Though Agra was sacked and owed its allegiance to Ghazni, the Rajput rulers still effectively controlled it. It was during the Second Battle of Tarain (1192) that the Ghaznavids led by Muhammad bin Sam established their rule.
Following the Ghaznavids, the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate was marked by an asserted allegiance to Delhi. Intermittent revolts and a revived Rajput presence in Agra that took control of most of the region soon became a threat. Agra came under the direct control of Sikandar Lodi in 1492 after the governor of Agra, Haibat Khan, rebelled against Delhi. Given the central location of the city, Sikandar shifted the capital to Agra in 1504.
Under Sikandar Lodi, Agra was endowed with cultural and artistic aspects, looking to be viewed as the Shiraz of India. With the death of Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat in 1526, and the establishment of the Mughal Empire, Agra retained its stately status. During the reign of Sher Shah Sur, Agra became the node from where the road networks began and connected the extent of the Sur Empire.
During the Mughal Emperor Akbar's reign, Agra came to be known as 'Akbarabad'. It flourished under his patronage, and his successors Jahangir and Shah Jahan. The city is today famous for its many architectural trophies, dated to the Mughal period. The present day Agra Fort was built by Akbar in 1565, along with the new capital at Fatehpur Sikri, along the outskirts of Agra, which was eventually abandoned. The Taj Mahal was the contribution of Shah Jahan to the cityscape.
Agra's significance as a political centre ended when Shah Jahan moved the capital to Delhi in 1638.
In 1761, the Jats under the Raja of Bharatpur sacked Agra. It was then taken by the Maratha dynasty in 1770. The British gained control of the city after the Second Maratha War in 1803. It was besieged during the rebellion against the British in 1857. Post-independence Agra is one of India's major industrial cities and has a thriving tourist economy.
Davies, Philip. The Penguin Guide to the Monuments of India - Volume 2: Islamic, Rajput, European. London: The Penguin Group, 1989.
Nath, R. Agra and its Monuments. Agra: The Historical Research Documentation Programme, 1997.
Sanwal, B.D. Agra and its Monuments. New Delhi: Orient Longmans Limited, 1968.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: India. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2002.
I'timad al-Daula (Emperor's Pillar) was the title bestowed upon Mirza Ghiyath Beg by Emperor Jahangir. Of Persian descent, Mirza Ghiyath Beg became the first treasurer and then the prime minister (wazir) under Emperor Jahangir. His daughter, Nur Jahan, later married the Emperor and commissioned the mausoleum to honor the memory of her father upon his death in 1622.
The mausoleum is like a jewel box: built entirely of pure marble, it marks the transitional phase from the grand and massive red sandstone architecture of Akbar to the softer and sensual architectural style that marked the reign of Shah Jahan. Many of the design elements foreshadow the Taj Mahal, the construction of which began in 1630. The I'timad al-Daula was the first Mughal structure to be completely encased in marble and extensively use pietra dura, the marble inlay work that is associated with the Taj Mahal.
The tomb is of a modest scale, built on a low platform that is 4 feet (1.22m) high. It has a square plan measuring 68'-10" (21m), subdivided into nine chambers, with four corner octagonal towers in the form of minarets. The minarets frame the central roof pavilion that marks the tomb chamber below. The kiosks of the minarets consist of small hemispherical cupolas resting on small arches supported by eight pilasters. The roof pavilion imparts a distinct Hindu feel in its use of a Bengali roof, completed by a wide overhang, or eaves (chhajja).
The mausoleum is set within a garden surrounded by walls forming a perimeter of 541'-4" (165m) on each side. The approach is from the east through a red sandstone gateway that is decorated with rich marble mosaics. Sandstone pathways lead up to the main tomb. Each façade has a central arched entrance, flanked by two recessed arches that are filled by beautiful marble screens (jali). Fine corbels support the cornice, which has a marble tracery (jali) balustrade running along its length.
The platform and tomb is embellished with mosaics and pietra dura inlay work of semiprecious stones. The art of inlay marble had been practiced for many years, but this was the first attempt to imitate Persian pottery decoration and tile work.
The interior is a series of rooms and corridors arranged around a verandah that surrounds the central chamber containing the cenotaph. The square roof pavilion above the central chamber allows the light to filter down through its perforated marble screens (jalis) to gently wash over the two porphyry yellow cenotaphs of I'timad al-Daula and his wife.
The interior boasts stucco and paintings in a variety of patterns with motifs inspired from Iranian origin (Perso-Safavid period). Intricate stalactites decorate the soffits of the corner chambers and the main hall. The surfaces above the dados have regular distributed niches, alcoves and decorative panels that allow for variations in decoration to take place.
Davies, Philip. The Penguin Guide to the Monuments of India: Islamic, Rajput, European. Vol. II of The Penguin Guide to the Monuments of India, London: The Penguin Group, 1989. 196.
Nath, Ram. Some Aspects of Mughal Architecture. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1976. 102.
Alfieri, Bianca Maria. Islamic Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2000. 232.