Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah built the monument in 1591 shortly after he had shifted his capital from Golkonda to what now is known as Hyderabad. Legend has it that the building honors a promise Quli Qutb Shah made to Allah. He supposedly had prayed for the end of a plague and vowed that he would build a masjid on that very place. The masjid became popularly known as Charminar because of its four (Hindi char = four) minarets (Minar (Arabic manara) = spire/tower), which possibly honor the first four khalifs of Islam. The actual masjid occupies the top floor of the four-story structure. (Madame Blavatsky asserted that each of the floors was meant for a separate branch of learning .) There is a legend that an underground tunnel connects the palace at Golconda to Charminar to give the Qutb Shahi royal family an escape route should they need it during a siege. However, the exact location of the tunnel is unknown.
In 1591 while laying the foundation of Charminar, Quli prayed: Oh God, bestow unto this city peace and prosperity. Let millions of men of all castes, creeds and religions make it their abode. Like fishes in the water. True to the legend, the city blossomed into a synthesis of two cultures.
The Charminar is a beautiful and impressive square monument. Each side measures 20 m, and each of the corners has a tall, pointed minaret. These four gracefully carved minarets soar to a height of 48.7 m above the ground, commanding the landscape for miles around. Each minaret has four stories, marked by a delicately carved ring around the minaret. Unlike the Taj Mahal, Charminar's four fluted minarets of Charminar are built into the main structure. Inside the minarets 149 winding steps guide the visitor to the top floor, the highest point one can reach, which provides a panoramic view of the city.
Each side of the structure opens into a plaza through giant arches that overlook four major thoroughfares, which once upon a time were royal roads. The arches dwarf other features of the building except the minarets. Each arch is 11 m wide and rises 20 m to the pinnacle from the plinth, which is a large table raised seven or eight feet from the ground with steps that go up to it. Today, the four arches each have a clock, which was installed in 1889.
A vault that appears from inside like a dome, supports two galleries within the Charminar, one over another, and above those a terrace that serves as a roof, bordered with a stone balcony. The main gallery has 45 covered prayer spaces with a large open space in front to accommodate more people for Friday prayers.
Built with granite and lime mortar, Charminar is a fine example of the Cazia style of architecture. Locally available granite, sand and lime were used in the construction of Qutb Shahi monuments including Charminar. Lime used for the plaster seems to have been specifically ground and treated to create a durable stucco. Generally shell, lime, jaggery, white of egg, etc. are known to enhance the binding property of lime. The SiO2 /CaO ratio in Charminar’s mortar and plaster (1.61-2.25) indicates that the engineers at that time were probably aware of the necessity of having a higher SiO2 content but were not sure of the value that maximizes the strength of lime cement; today, the usual practice is to have a ratio of 3.0 to 1.
It is said that, during the Mughal Governorship between Qutb Shahi and Asaf Jahi rule, the South Western minaret "fell to pieces" after being struck by lightning, but "was forthwith repaired" at a cost of Rs 60,000. In 1824, the monument was replastered at a cost of Rs 100,000.
This graceful monument is very beautiful on the inside, and is particularly known for its carvings and moldings. The painstaking details result in a graceful, lace-like look. The Charminar looks particularly spectacular at night when it is illuminated.
The monument overlooks another beautiful and grand mosque called Makkah Masjid. The area surrounding Charminar is also known by same name. A thriving market still lies around the Charminar, attracting people and merchandise of every description. In its heyday, the Charminar market had some 14,000 shops; today the market around the Charminar is crowded with shops which sell glass bangles in rainbow colours.