In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, lush gardens built for the city of Agra‘s nobility lined the Yamuna River. Today, the few that remain face challenges of urban development, pollution, traffic congestion, and lack of visitor amenities.
Four years ago, the World Monuments Fund partnered with the Archaeological Survey of India to restore the authentic form of two of Agra’s most notable gardens, re-activate their water features, and enhance their visitor experience.
On January 11, 2019, restoration was completed on significant features of Mehtab Bagh and the Garden of the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, two of India’s most celebrated Mughal gardens.
As the project developed it became clear that an innovative approach to water management would be required. Over the centuries, the river that was once fed by the melting snows of the Himalayas became depleted and contaminated. An integrated water management system was designed to address the needs of the project as well as ensure that there would be no discharge or waste.
Today, clean water is again flowing in the channels and into the gardens. The transformative restoration seeks to evoke the spirit of a Mughal Char Bagh as it relates to fragrance, fruit, shade, and running water.
“The Mughal Gardens represent some of the most important historic features within Agra, India,” said Lisa Ackerman, Interim Chief Executive Officer, World Monuments Fund. “We are thrilled to see the successful culmination of four years of work, in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India, resulting in renewed landscapes that will attract more people to enjoy them and learn about their history. We are especially thankful to The Tiffany & Co. Foundation and American Express India for their generous support to make this work a reality.”
Students from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design joined the project by conducting studios in Agra in 2014 and 2015 and engaging in an analysis of the urban fabric that surrounds the gardens to provide holistic solutions for the sites within their urban context.
The four-year project concluded with the construction of a new visitor center at I’timad-ud-Daulah. Raising awareness and visibility of the gardens was an important objective of the conservation, as they are often overshadowed by their more famous neighbor, the Taj Mahal.
The enhanced visitor services will now offer local residents and tourists an opportunity to learn more about the history of the magnificent gardens through interactive exhibition kiosks, video, and more.
Speaking on the occasion, Manoj Adlakha, CEO, American Express Banking Corp. India said, “As one of the leading players in the payments and travel industry, American Express recognises that no industry has a greater stake than ours in preserving the world’s treasured places. We are proud to have partnered with World Monuments Fund to accomplish the restoration journey of the iconic Mughal Gardens in Agra. The restoration of the I’timad-ud-Daulah and its new interpretation center comes on the back of the restoration of Balaji Ghat in Varanasi and highlights our commitment to the cause of heritage conservation. We truly believe that the renewed Mughal Gardens will not only enhance the visitor experience, but will also go a long way in mobilizing the local communities and revitalizing India’s rich cultural heritage.”
“The Tiffany & Co. Foundation seeks to preserve the world’s most treasured landscapes and seascapes, and is honored to have supported World Monuments Fund to revitalize the Mughal Gardens of Agra,” said Anisa Kamadoli Costa, Chairman and President of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation. “We are delighted to see the restoration of such important cultural and historic treasures as these two magnificent gardens completed, for the enjoyment of Agra’s community and visitors for years to come.”
All photos courtesy of the World Monuments Fund. Featured photo shows the Garden of the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah after restoration.