If someone asked you to list the most important architecture in the world, the Taj Mahal would likely make your list. For this reason, it may be surprising to learn that NO ONE can say for sure who designed this famous structure. The identity of its architect remains a mystery to this day.
The name most often attached to the Taj Mahal is that of Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan. But he only commissioned the structure. The Taj Mahal was originally created to hold the remains of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal (translated as “Chosen One of the Palace”). Mumtaz died tragically after the birth of their 14th child, and Jahan ordered the mausoleum to be built in honor of the favorite of his three queens.
Jahan played such an active role in the Taj Mahal’s design that he essentially served as his own artistic director, overseeing the designers as part of his daily routine. To PBS, Historian Milo Beach explained why we still remember Jahan’s name, but not the architect’s: “…an architect was, in a sense, a kind of functionary. Architects and painters never achieved the kind of acclaim that placed them within the ranks of the nobility, for example. They were recognized, but they were never given an enormous amount of importance.”
Because architects weren’t revered in the 1600s, Jahan’s vision may have erased the architect’s mark on history. But there are some theories as to his identity. The chief architect may have been Ustad Ahmad Lahouri, because experts found a manuscript that credits him for designing both the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort at Delhi. Even if he was the mastermind behind the beautiful tomb, it took a team of more than 20,000 workers and 1,000 elephants to bring Jahan’s romantic gesture to life.