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Preservation Challenges Face Taj Mahal

Pollution is threatening the structural integrity of the Taj Mahal, prompting local officials to scramble for ways to preserve the historic site.
September 1, 2011, 7am PDT | Nate Berg
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The nearby Yamuna River is plagued by pollution problems, and the soil beneath the Taj Mahal could be in danger of erosion.

"The Indian press has been filled with reports that the latest government efforts to control pollution around the Taj are failing and that the gorgeous white marble is deteriorating-a possible casualty of India's booming population, rapid economic expansion and lax environmental regulations. Some local preservationists, echoing the concerns of R. Nath, an Indian historian who has written extensively about the Taj, warn that the edifice is in danger of sinking or even collapsing toward the river. They also complain that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has done slipshod repair work and call for fresh assessments of the structure's foundations.

The criticisms are a measure of how important the complex is to India and the world, as a symbol of historical and cultural glory, and as an architectural marvel. It was constructed of brick covered with marble and sandstone, with elaborate inlays of precious and semiprecious stones. The designers and builders, in their unerring sense of form and symmetry, infused the entire 42-acre complex of buildings, gates, walls and gardens with unearthly grace. "It combines the great rationality of its design with an appeal to the senses," says Ebba Koch, author of The Complete Taj Mahal, a careful study of the monument published in 2006. 'It was created by fusing so many architectural traditions-Central Asian, Indian, Hindu and Islamic, Persian and European-it has universal appeal and can speak to the whole world.'"

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Published on Monday, August 29, 2011 in Smithsonian
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