Emperor Shah Jahan, in 1632, commissioned this most famous of all mausoleums for his favorite wife, Mumtaz. One of the greatest examples of Moghul architecture—a marriage of Hindu, Persian, and Islamic design—the Taj sits amid serene pools that reflect its unmistakable profile.
In 1960, President Juscelino Kubitschek moved Brazil's government from Rio to its new capital, a futuristic fantasyland where monumental buildings by Oscar Niemeyer march down the immense axis of Lucio Costa's master plan, defining the Modernist urban landscape.
Altes Museum, Berlin
The Old Museum, one of the first purpose- built museums to house a royal collection, was designed in 1823 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The façade's peristyle of 18 Ionic columns, inspired by the Stoa of Attalos, in Athens, demonstrates Schinkel's interest in ancient architecture and epitomizes Neoclassical style and 19th-century museum design.
This monumental temple, in use throughout its history, was erected by the Roman consul Marcus Agrippa in 27 B.C., rebuilt by Hadrian after a fire in about 125 A.D., and consecrated as a Christian church in 609 A.D. It stands as a pure expression of classical proportions; the coffered dome—with a heaven-gazing oculus at its apex—and colonnaded portico have inspired generations of architects.
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
The dome atop Constantinople's Church of Divine Wisdom, erected in 532 A.D., was the largest in the world until St. Peter's was completed 1,000 years later. In 1453, the conquering Ottomans turned the Byzantine church into a mosque, adding minarets and plastering over its elaborate mosaics. This confluence of cultures is now a museum—with its mosaics resplendently restored.
Chichén Itzá, Mexico
The tropical lowlands of the Yucatán Peninsula and northern Central America are dotted with Mayan and Toltec ruins. Few are as grand as Chichén Itzá. The site's pyramids, ball courts, and palaces, grouped around grand plazas, leave no doubt of the sophisticated civilization that thrived centuries before Columbus arrived.
Sir John Soane's Museum, London
Architect John Soane, designer of the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery, rebuilt three adjacent town houses from 1792 to 1823 and filled them with his treasures—an Egyptian sarcophagus, Roman marbles, Hogarth's The Rake's Progress. Displayed chockablock, they now form part of a connoisseur's legacy in a museum that retains the character of a private house while its clever design accommodates a collector's zeal.
The Barcelona chair, an icon of 20th-century design, was born in a sleek, equally iconic masterpiece of Modernism in Montjuïc Park: the German National Pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition. Mies van der Rohe designed both, and the pavilion's space—enclosed by walls of glass, travertine, green marble, and golden onyx—embodies his concept of open- plan, while its colors and materials define the period's ideal of elegance.