If you could boil India’s architecture down to a single word or phrase, what would it be? Dynamic? Melting pot? Overwhelming? Complex?
It can be all those things and more. From historic houses of worship to futuristic marvels that reflect the country’s rising global status, India’s architecture demonstrates where it’s been and where it’s going.
Here are 12 famous buildings from across one of the most historically and culturally rich places on Earth:
The Lake Palace
Completed: 1746 | Location: Udaipur, Rajasthan
Now home to one of India’s most luxurious hotels, the Lake Palace (pictured top) can be found in the middle of Udaipur’s Lake Pichola. Set against the backdrop of the Aravalli mountains, its gleaming white marble looks almost as if it’s floating on the lake’s surface.
The structure was originally built as a pleasure palace for Maharana Jagat Singh II. It stayed with his royal descendants long after his death, but by the 1950s it was practically abandoned before being converted into a hotel.
Did you know? If you’re a James Bond fan, you might recognize the palace from the 1983 movie “Octopussy.”
Konark Sun Temple
Completed: Circa 1250 | Location: Konark, Odisha
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Konark Sun Temple (sometimes spelled Konarak) is a superb example of Indian temple architecture.
Dedicated to the Hindu sun god Surya, the temple faces east to greet the rising sun, whose rays illuminate the entrance. It was designed in the shape of huge chariot, pulled by seven stone horses (only six of which still stand) and 12 pairs of wheels, symbolizing the days of a week and the months in a year.
Its main sanctum is believed to have once stood at 70 meters (229 feet) tall, though it has since fallen. Despite lying partial in ruins, the temple is still considered an excellent example of the region’s so-called Kalinga architecture.
Did you know? The temple is decorated with reliefs featuring lions, birds, mythological creatures, musicians, dancers and even erotica.
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
Completed: 1903 | Location: Mumbai
The regal Taj Mahal Palace hotel is one of Mumbai’s most iconic structures.
It’s an enticing union of European and Islamic architectural influences – unsurprising, given that the project was started by two Indian architects and completed by an English engineer.
Standout features include so-called “onion” domes and a pointed arch borrowed from 16th-century Islamic architecture. The hotel – which has hosted celebrities and politicians from the Beatles to Barack Obama – features an additional modern tower completed in 1973.
Did you know? The hotel has a storied but tragic history. It was used as a hospital during World War I and, in 2008, was the site of a deadly terror attack.
Completed: 2006 | Location: Just outside of Pune, Maharashtra
Resembling spaceships come to land, Indian firm Infosys’ campus offers a futuristic vision of architecture in the country.
Designed by Indian architect Hafeez Contractor, the first of the egg-like structures was completed in 2006, with a duplicate following later.
The buildings, which are made of glass, steel and aluminum, each have five stories and are tilted at an angle of around 10 degrees.
Did you know? Architect Hafeez Contractor’s designs can be found across India, including the twin Imperial Towers in Mumbai.
Completed: 1929 | Location: New Delhi
The Rashtrapati Bhavan is the official residence of India’s president.
The H-shaped building was designed during British rule, when it was known as the Viceroy’s House. When India became independent in 1947, it was renamed Government House before taking on its current name in 1950 under India’s first president, Rajendra Prasad.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the Rashtrapati Bhavan is the tall dome at its center. The building is made almost entirely of stone, with very little steel used in its construction.
Its design blends Hellenic and Indian architecture, with the latter represented by features such as “jaalis” (indented stone slabs containing floral and geometric patterns).
Did you know? This mansion contains a lot of rooms – 340 to be exact – and its corridors have a combined length of 2.5 kilometers (1.55 miles).
Completed: 1921 | Location: Kolkata
The Victoria Memorial is among the most striking structural reminders of British rule in India. The large marble building, dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria, functions as a museum and is a major tourist destination in eastern India’s largest city.
It was built in the Indo-Saracenic (or Indo-Gothic) style, which blended classic Mughal architecture with Neoclassical or Gothic revival styles popular in Europe.
The building’s central dome, which houses a marble statue of Queen Victoria, rises to 56 meters (184 feet).
Did you know? If the Victoria Memorial’s stunning white facades remind you of the Taj Mahal’s, that’s because both structures were built using marble from the same quarries in Rajasthan.
Completed: 1912 | Location: Mysore, Karnataka
Another prime example of the Indo-Saracenic revivalist style, Mysore Palace is one of southern India’s most spectacular and visited sites.
Built in the early 20th century, the rulers of Mysore’s long-serving Wadiyar dynasty commissioned British architect Henry Irwin to design the palace. The structure consists of square towers covered with pink domes, while the striking gray granite facade is made up of a series of arches.
It’s three stories tall in most places, though its highest tower reaches to 44 meters (145 feet).
Did you know? The palace is spectacularly illuminated with almost 100,000 lights on Sundays, public holidays and during the local Dasara festival.
Completed: 1799 | Location: Jaipur, Rajasthan
Hawa Mahal palace’s regal red and pink sandstone exterior, which matches the color scheme found throughout Jaipur, has delighted onlookers for more than 200 years.
The name Hawa Mahal means “Palace of Breeze,” with its natural circulation produced by more than 950 honeycomb-shaped exterior windows that help keep the palace cool in Rajashtan’s hot summers.
The intricately carved windows once allowed the palace’s royal inhabitants to look out to the streets below without being seen by the public.
Did you know? Hawa Mahal was built without foundations, though it stays upright thanks to its curved shape, which is meant to mimic the Hindu god Krishna’s crown.
Completed: 1986 | Location: Delhi
Although younger than the other temples on this list, the Lotus Temple is nonetheless one of India’s best-known thanks to its enticing flower-like shape – a nod to the sacred lotus flower.
The enchanting building’s circular structure is formed from 27 concrete slabs clad in white marble. These “leaves” are organized in groups of three on each of the temple’s nine sides.
The temple serves as a place of worship for the Bahá’i faith, though it is open to people of any religion. It reportedly welcomes an average of over 10,000 visitors a day.
Did you know? The Lotus Temple was designed by architect Fariborz Sahba, a Canadian of Iranian descent. Sahba also designed the Terraces at the Shrine of the Báb in Haifa, Israel, one of the holiest sites of the Bahá’i faith.
Completed: 1638 | Location: Delhi
This is not a single building, per se. But the Red Fort is simply too spectacular to be left off this list.
Also known as Lal Qila, the Red Fort is said to represent the power and creativity of Mughal Empire, the dominant force on the Indian subcontinent for more than two centuries. The huge complex derives its name from the color of its walls, which are made from red sandstone.
At 33 meters (108 feet) tall, this UNESCO World Heritage site offers a fascinating blend of influences. Islamic, Persian, Timurid and Hindu traditions can all be found in the design of the ornate residence.
Witness to the grand sweep of Delhi’s history since the 17th century, its walls contain domed palaces, private apartments, garden and the Moti Masjid (or “Pearl Mosque”).
Did you know? It may be hard to tell from ground level, but a bird’s-eye view reveals that the Red Fort has an octagon shape.
Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib)
Completed: Early 1600s | Location: Amritsar, Punjab
The Golden Temple is the world’s holiest gurdwara (a Sikh place of worship) and one of India’s most treasured buildings.
The temple’s dazzling white buildings line the edge of the man-made Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar). Visitors can reach the sanctum via a narrow walkway, called the Guru’s Bridge, that carries them across the water.
The building isn’t particularly large – it was built on a 67-square-foot platform that sits below ground level and contains just three stories. And though it’s a holy Sikh site, the design is considered an exquisite harmony of Islamic and Hindu construction styles.
Did you know? The temple has undergone huge changes over the centuries, and the gold foil on the exterior wasn’t added until 1830.
Completed: 1648 | Location: Agra, Uttar Pradesh
If someone only knows one building in India, it will be the Taj Mahal – a structure so revered that it was named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a global contest in 2007.
The building was built as a mausoleum by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
UNESCO says it’s “considered to be the greatest architectural achievement in the whole range of Indo-Islamic architecture … (with) a rhythmic combination of solids and voids, concave and convex and light shadow; such as arches and domes further increases the aesthetic aspect.”
Did you know? The design of the Taj Mahal was influenced by Humayun’s Tomb, in Delhi, which dates back to 1565.