I'timad al-Daula (Emperor's Pillar) was the title bestowed upon Mirza Ghiyas Beg by Emperor Jehangir. Of Persian descent, Mirza Ghiyas Beg became the first treasurer and then the prime minister (wazir) under Emperor Jehangir. 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.