Have you ever had this feeling of going to a place, seeing all the famous tourist attraction points and wondering to yourself, that this is NOT just about this place? Because that’s a sentiment I have carried for Agra every time. This is without a doubt that the city of Agra is synonymous of Taj Mahal & Agra Fort, which attracts major chunk of tourists here. But, Agra has got more to itself and my visit here, reveals a different story each time
Though abundant in its stories from the Mughal Era, this time it was about learning the colonial history of Agra city beyond the Taj Mahal, which remained shadowed for a while now. Exploring an Agra beyond the Taj with tourism guild of Agra recently, was a revelation in itself and opened me to a lot more lesser known stories. Though, it’s not the first time that I am doing a trail like this. I have done quite a bit of seeing Agra beyond the Taj Mahal them before and written about it as well as here. In this blog I shall walk through the colonial past of Agra which definitely makes it one of the best things to do in Agra beyond the Taj Mahal
Roman Catholic Cementery: One of the oldest catholic cemeteries, Roman Catholic Cemetery is located on the eastern side of Mahatma Gandhi Road close to the Civil Court in the city of Agra. This small graveyard buries host of historic personalities who came to India during the colonial era, the most recognisable being The Tomb of Colonel John William Hessing, a Dutch mercenary from Utrecht, Holland, who arrived in the Indian sub-continent in 1700s and subsequently died here.
Famously known as the Red Taj, this tomb is the star attraction of Roman catholic cemetery and apparently the first monument that you would see once you will enter this cemetery. Hessing’s tomb is also called a copy of the wonder Taj Mahal but has been built in the red sandstone. Stone steps allow access to the upper deck which has got access to his grave. However, this is merely for a show, with the actual grave being on the lower level. But unlike the Taj Mahal, the Red Taj have got no freestanding minars n the corners. It is also agrued that this actually a baby taj, a title which is otherwise owned by another beautiful monument of Agra: Itimad- ud- daulah
Though build during the colonial era, one thing that I couldn’t ignore noticing while walking through the Roman Catholic Cemetery of Agra, is its striking resemblance with the Mughal architecture legacy. I mean if isn’t compensated with a cross of Christianity, it is almost impossible to believe that they have been build during the Britishers era. Also, inscriptions of Persian scriptures on the wall, which makes this cemetery more interesting compared to other colonial era cemeteries around India.
Akbar’s Church: Do you know that Akbar is the one who commissioned the earliest catholic Church in Agra? During the mid 16th century, the emperor welcomed the Jesuits into his court, and they had built a church in the northern part of the city.
The church was destroyed during the reign of Akbar’s grandson Shahjahan, but one of Agra’s oldest churches arose in 1772, the building today known as Akbar’s Church. This church formed the core around which Christian community flourished here. Built in 1598 CE, this church is witness to some tumultuous events in Indian history! It is here that Mughal Emperors Akbar & Jahangir came to pray. In 1769 Walter Reinhardt helped to rebuild the Church & this is where Begum Johana Samru, the Begum of Sardhana was baptized.
St. John’s College: St. John’s College, Agra, was a quick stopover but nevertheless this looks good. One look at it, reminded me of a similar grand building I saw in Punjab.
This college was established in 1850 by the Church Missionary Society of England through the efforts of the Agra C.M.S. Association which came into being in 1840. St. Johns College is one of the most beautiful buildings in North India, built in red sandstone in Indo-Saracenic style of architecture.
St George’s Cathedral : That’s St. George’s Cathedral. Well, I don’t know much about it but this former British Raj Protestant Church can be found in the Agra Cantonment Area, of Sadar Bazar.
The Cathedral was one of the main places of worship for the Anglicans back during the British rule in India and continues to draw the Christian population. One can attend church service here at 9am every Sunday. Otherwise, permission is needed to view it as it remains locked on other days. The chancel at the east end has been Gothicized at a later date with a carved white sandstone screen and the altar was enriched with the marble inlay work, for which Agra is famous
One thing is for sure that the city of Agra has a rich historical past and I am sure there lots more left to be explored beyond the world famous Taj Mahal.
Do you know of any such gems? Don’t forget to share them in the comment section below 🙂
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