Daily Mail

Agra

It may have been built more than 350 years ago, but it seems some secrets of the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh, India, are still being unearthed.

Because a researcher has found a remarkable feature hidden in plain sight - the entire complex has actually been built to align with the winter and summer solstice.

The remarkable discovery shows that as the sun sets and rises during the solstices, it aligns perfectly with the four corners of the garden near the central dome.

If you were to stand in the centre of the waterway in the main gardens, where the two pathways meet, on the summer solstice around 21 June there would be quite a sight to behold.

Standing in the centre of the gardens, a person would feel as if they were at the centre of Eden - which the gardens were meant to represent - or even the universe.

The sun would rise in the north-east corner, rise above your head and then set again in the north-west corner - as if the sun were were circling you. On the winter solstice, around 22 December each year, the sun would rise above the south-east corner, and set in the south-west. The discovery was made by Dr Amelia Carolina Sparavigna from the Department of Applied Science and Technology, Politecnico di Torino.  ‘The Taj Mahal complex has a north-south axis,’ she writes in her research, published in the journal Philica.

‘When an architectonic structure is aligned in this manner, it is aligned to the projection on the horizontal plane of the “axis mundi”, the axis about which the world is rotating. ‘However, in their planning, architects could also use some elements aligned in the directions of sunrise or sunset.’ Using satellite imagery of the famous complex, she found that the axis represents the axis mundi.

The exact reasoning for aligning with the solstices, though, is not entirely clear. ‘It is well known that the Mughal gardens were created with the symbolic meaning of Gardens of Eden, with the four main canals flowing from a central spring to the four corners of the world,’ Dr Sparavigna continued. ‘Here, we have shown that some of these gardens could have elements of their layouts, oriented to the directions of sunrise and sunset on solstices.’

However, she notes that the purpose of aligning with the solstices may not have necessarily been for symbolic reasons - but instead, practical reasons.

‘Architects have six main directions: two are joining cardinal points (north-south, east-west) and four are those given by sunrise and sunset on summer and winter solstices,’ she said.

While other structures are known to have this alignment, the gardens of the Taj Mahal are especially interesting because they are one of the best examples in the world of a structure built to align with the summer and winter solstices.

The summer solstice is the day of the year that has the most sunlight, as the sun reaches its highest point in the sky owing to the tilt of the Earth.

Conversely, the winter solstice has the least sunlight and is thus the shortest day of the year.