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Wonders Of The World:
St. Mark's Church
Tower Of London
Cathedral Of Antwerp
The Taj Mahal
Cathedral Of Notre Dame
Cathedral Of York
Mosque Of Omar
Cathedral Of Burgos
Saint Peter's Cathedral
Cathedral Of Strasburg
The Shway Dagohn
Cathedral Of Siena
Town Hall Of Louvain
Cathedral Of Seville
Cathedral of Cologne
Palce Of Versailles
Cathedral Of Lincoln
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
It is well known that the Taj is a mausoleum built by the Mogul Shah-Jehan to the Begum Mumtaz-Mahal. It is a regular octagon surmounted by a Persian dome, which is surrounded by four minarets. The building, erected upon a terrace which dominates the enclosing gardens, is constructed of blocks of the purest white marble, and rises to a height of two hundred and fortythree feet. We step from the carriage before a noble portico of red sandstone, pierced by a bold arch and covered with white arabesques. After passing through this arch, we see the Taj looming up before us eight hundred metres distant. Probably no masterpiece of architecture calls forth a similar emotion.
At the back of a marvellous garden and with all of its whiteness reflected in a canal of dark water, sleeping inertly among thick masses of black cypress and great clumps of red flowers, this perfect tomb rises like a calm apparition. It is a floating dream, an aerial form without weight, so perfect is the balance of the lines, and so pale, so delicate the shadows that float across the virginal and translucent stone. These black cypresses which frame it, this verdure through the openings of which peeps the blue sky, and this sward bathed in brilliant sunlight and on which the sharply-cut silhouettes of the trees are lying,-all these real objects render more unreal the delicate vision, which seems to melt away into the light of the sky. I walk towards it along the marble bank of the dark canal, and the mausoleum assumes sharper form. On approaching you take more delight in the surface of the octagonal edifice. This consists of rectangular expanses of polished marble where the light rests with a soft, milky splendour. One would never imagine that so simple a thing as surface could be so beautiful when it is large and pure. The eye follows the ingenious and graceful scrolls of great flowers, flowers of onyx and turquoise, incrusted with perfect smoothness, the harmony of the delicate carving, the marble lace-work, the balustrades of a thousand perforations,-the infinite display of simplicity and decoration.
The garden completes the monument, and both unite to form this masterpiece of art. The avenues leading to the Taj are bordered with funereal yews and cypresses, which make the whiteness of the far-away marble appear even whiter. Behind their slender cones thick and massive bushes add richness and depth to this solemn vegetation. The stiff and sombre trees, standing out in relief from this waving foliage, rise up solemnly with their trunks halfburied in masses of roses, or are surrounded by clusters of a thousand unknown and sweet-scented flowers which are blossoming in great masses in this solitary garden. He must have been an extraordinary artist who conceived this place. Sweeps of lawn, purple-chaliced flowers, golden petals, swarms of humming bees, and diapered butterflies give light and joy to the gloom of the burial-ground. This place is both luminous and solemn; it contains the amorous and religious delights of the Mussulman paradise, and the poem in trees and flowers unites with the poem in marble to sing of splendour and peace.
The interior of the mausoleum is at first as dark as night, but through this darkness a grille of antique marble is faintly gleaming, a mysterious marble-lace, which drapes the tombs, and which seems to wind and unwind forever, shedding on the splendour of the vault a yellow light, which seems to be ancient, and to have rested there for ages. And the pale web of marble wreathes and wreathes until it loses itself in the darkness.
In the centre are the tombs of the lovers; two small sarcophagi upon which a mysterious light falls, but whence it comes no one knows. There is nothing more. They sleep here in the silence, surrounded by perfect beauty which celebrates their love that has lasted even through death, and which is still isolated from everything by the mysterious marble-lace which enfolds them and which floats above them like a dream.
Very high overhead, as if through a thick vapour, we see the dome loom through the shadows, although its entire outlines are not perceptible; -its walls seem made of mist, and its marble blocks appear to have no solidity. Everything is aerial here, nothing is substantial or real: this is a world of shadowy visions. Even sounds are unearthly. A note sung under this vault is echoed above our heads in an invisible region. First, it is as clear as the voice of Ariel, then it grows fainter and fainter until it dies away and then is re-echoed very far above, but glorified, spiritualized, and multiplied indefinitely as if repeated by a distant company, a choir of unseen angels who soar with it aloft until all is lost save a faint murmur which never ceases to vibrate over the tomb of the beloved, as if it were the very soul of a musician.
I have seen the Taj again; this time at noon. Under the vertical sun the melancholy phantom has vanished, the sweet sadness of the mausoleum has gone. The great marble table on which it stands is blinding. The light, reflected back and forth from the immense surfaces of white marble, is increased a hundred-fold in intensity, and some of the sides are like burning plaques. The incrustations seem to be sparks of magic fire; their hundreds of red flowers gleam like burning coals. The religious texts and the hieroglyphs, inlaid with black marble, stand out as if traced by the lightning-finger of a savage god. All the mystical rows of lotus and lilies unfolding in relief, which just now had the softness of yellowed ivory, spring forth like flames. -I retrace my steps, passing out of the entrance, and for an instant I have a dazzling view of the lines and incandescent surfaces of the building with its unchanging virgin whiteness.-Indeed, this severe simplicity and intensity of light give it something of a Semitic character: we think of the flaming and chastening sword of the Bible. The minarets lift themselves into the blue like pillars of fire.
I wander outside in the fresh air under the shadows of the leafy arches until twilight. This garden in the conception of one of the faithful who wished to glorify Allah.
It is the home of religious delight: -" No one shall enter the garden of God unless he is pure of heart," is the Arabian text graven over the entrance-gate. Here are flower-beds, which are masses of velvet, - unknown blooms resembling heaps of purple moss. The trunks of the trees are entwined with blue convolvulus, and flowers like great red stars gleam through the dark foliage. Over these flowers a hundred thousand delicate butterflies hover in a perpetual cloud. Many pretty creatures, little striped squirrels and numerous birds, green parrots and parrots of more brilliant plumage, disport themselves here, making a little world, happy and secure, for guards, dressed in white muslin, menace with long pea-shooters the crows and vultures and protect them from everything that would bring mischief or cruelty into this peaceful place.
On the surface of the still waters lilies and lotus are sleeping, their stiff leaves pinked out and resting heavily upon the dark mirror.
Through the blackness of the boughs English meadows are revealed, bathed in brilliant sunlight, and spaces of blue sky, across which a triangle of white storks is sometimes seen flying, and, at certain moments, the far-away vision of the phantom tomb seems like the melancholy spectre of a virgin. - How calm, how superb this solitude, charged with voluptuousness at once solemn and enervating! Here dwell the beauty, the tenderness, and the light of Asia, dreamed of by Shelley.