Sitting on the western bank of the River Yamuna, Agra is just over 200 kms from Delhi. The Hindu epic Mahabharata refers to it as ‘Agraban’, part of Brij Bhoomi, the homeland of Lord Krishna. The earliest recorded history of Agra, however, is its establishment by a local king in 1475. It grew into an important power centre under the Delhi Sultan Sikandar Lodi, who shifted his capital from Delhi in 1504. Agra attained full glory in the Mughal period, from the time Babur captured it in 1526. Babur’s grandson, the Emperor Akbar, who was a great empire builder commissioned the Agra Fort in 1565 and the city grew around the nucleus of the fort.
However, Agra is best known for the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the modern World. Emperor Shah Jahan built this exquisite white marble mausoleum for his favourite queen Mumtaz Mahal. Declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, Taj Mahal has always evoked varying emotions from wonder to ecstasy and time and again, inspired poetic verse. Over the centuries, it has become the symbol of undying love and flawless beauty.
The monument was commissioned in 1631 and took 22 years, and 20,000 artisans to complete. An entire township now known as Taj Ganj came up around the site. Here, craftsmen live and sell their wares of marble and stone inlay and replicas of the Taj. After the reign of the last great Mughal, Aurangzeb, Agra fell into the hands of the Jats and then the Marathas. In 1803, the British under General Lake captured the city. Once again, it secured its position of eminence as the capital of the north-western provinces.
After the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the capital of the Central Province and its High Court were moved to Allahabad. From the rule of the Jats to the early British period, Agra’s monuments were plundered and exquisitely crafted pieces transported away. The city fell into decline and disarray till modern times, when people rediscovered its historical importance and tremendous tourist potential.