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
Taj Lake Palace looks as if it’s floating on water. Credit: Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis/Getty Images
Completed: 1746 | Location: Udaipur, Rajasthan
Did you know? If you’re a James Bond fan, you might recognize the palace from the 1983 movie “Octopussy.”
Konark Sun Temple
Tourists visit the Konark Sun Temple, a beloved example of Hindu architecture of the 1200s. Credit: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images
Completed: Circa 1250 | Location: Konark, Odisha
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.
Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
The refined Taj Mahal Palace hotel is perhaps the signature building of Mumbai, the most populous city in India. Credit: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images
Completed: 1903 | Location: Mumbai
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.
No, that’s not a UFO! It’s one of the two “spaceship” buildings on the Infosys Pune campus. Credit: Tom Fencl/500px/Getty Images
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.
Sunlight catches the north facade of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. This is where the President of India gets to live. Credit: Jeremy Horner/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images
Completed: 1929 | Location: New Delhi
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.
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).
The Victoria Memorial is Kolkata’s standout building and blends elements of British Victorian and Indian architecture. Credit: Alamy
Completed: 1921 | Location: Kolkata
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.
Mysore Palace is one of the architectural highlights of southern India. Credit: Alamy
Completed: 1912 | Location: Mysore, Karnataka
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).
How many of the 953 windows of the Hawa Mahal can you count? Credit: Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis/Getty Images
Completed: 1799 | Location: Jaipur, Rajasthan
The intricately carved windows once allowed the palace’s royal inhabitants to look out to the streets below without being seen by the public.
The Lotus Temple takes its name from its shape, the revered lotus flower. Credit: Amal KS/Hindustan Times/Getty Images
Completed: 1986 | Location: Delhi
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.
Tourists visit the historic Red Fort, one of the most important structures in India. Credit: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times/Getty Images
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.
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”).
Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib)
The Golden Temple is the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion. Credit: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images
Completed: Early 1600s | Location: Amritsar, Punjab
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.
Pollution is damaging iconic Taj Mahal
Completed: 1648 | Location: Agra, Uttar Pradesh