Known as the cultural capital of Pakistan, Lahore is not only home to a large number of historic monuments, but is also surrounded by a magical walled city, enclosed by 13 gates and a 30-feet-tall wall. The walled city that existed in the past had no space to expand due to the enclosed walls, so the city was expanded on the outer sides, while the ‘walled city’ remained as it is.
The walled city, also known as ‘Androon Shehr’, has been around for the past 1,000 years, having seen each time period that Lahore has seen since. The city has known war and flourishment; it has been attacked, vanquished, destroyed, but has also witnessed peace and composure along with cultural festivities.
It has also been home to the Hindu Brahman civilisation, Ghaznavid Empire, the Mughals, Khiljis, Tughlaqs and Lodhi’s rule, each dynasty adding its own character to the place.
The Mughals gave this place its magnificence, whereas the Sikhs, who gained power after the decline of the Mughals and the death of Ranjit Singh, led to the British control of Lahore.
After the 1947 Partition, the city faced massive changes in terms of architecture, tradition and culture, including the fading memories of the ancestors. This place, which had been heralded for its unique heritage and history, has now been transformed into a commercial hub. Encroachments and conversion of traditional architecture have taken away the ancient relic from the monuments.
Dr. John Henrik Clarke, a writer and historian said that a person’s relationship to their heritage is the same as the relation of a child to his mother and what these monuments needed was a preservation and rehabilitation law to be introduced for their protection.
And so came the Walled City Lahore Authority (WCLA), established and funded by the Government of Punjab in 2012. The function of the WCLA is to work as an autonomous body in order to sustain the restoration of the monuments and give them a proper framework. Furthermore, the WCLA looks after the preservation, restoration, protection and development of the walled city of Lahore.
Pakistan Today went on a tour of the Walled City sites which includes the recently conserved Shahi Hamam (Royal Bath), Masjid Wazir Khan, Delhi Gate, Lahore Fort, Badshahi Masjid and Sheesh Mahal.
And to get a clear idea of what exactly the authorities were doing to preserve the monuments in the walled city, we spoke to an official of Walled City Project Tania Qureshi followed by Kamil Khan Mumtaz, an architect who is also the president of Lahore Conservation Society. We also spoke with the tour guides of WCLA to get their thoughts.
Tania Qureshi talked about the efforts made by the WCLA in conserving the monuments, using Shahi Hamam as a constant example as it has recently been conserved. When asked about the current maintenance of the monuments she says, “It is not up to the mark so far, there is a lot of improvement required in maintaining them, in their upkeep and conservation.”
Knowing that conservation is a lengthy and detailed process, she is of the opinion that the government of Punjab should release funds and take the initiative to save the heritage of our country.
The authorities should file the proper documents so that the authorities can plan their tasks and the entire mechanism of that purpose effectively, before we start losing most of our monuments.
Conserving the Shahi Hamam was part of the ‘Shahi Guzargah – the Royal Trail Project’ or ‘The Pilot Project’ from Delhi Gate to Masti Gate. The route was used by the Mughals to get to Lahore from Delhi. Since this was the first route to be conserved, it includes landmark monuments like the aforementioned Shahi Hamam, Masjid Wazir Khan, Mariam Zamani Masjid, Lahore Fort and so on.
One of the WCLA tour guides, Muddasir explained that initially the Aga Khan Trust for Culture supported the project with their technical assistance but now, the project is partially supported by World Bank, which consists of the trail which 54 streets, 655 houses and 157 houses. During the preservation of Shahi Hamam and Masjid Wazir Khan, 57 shops covering the Hamam and 72 shops covering the mosque were demolished in order to preserve the remaining monument and the trail.
When asked about cleanliness, Mudassir informed Pakistan Today that they have hired people to clean the place around four to five times a day, especially the place that has been preserved. After this, the next area that is under process of preservation is from Chowk Kotwali to Masti Gate, where the Akbari Gate is located, including the Mariam Zamani Mosque. Everything will be demolished in that trail. We check the registry and their documentation, how much area they cover and can be preserved. If something is recent and out of the area of the monument, it will be broken down to keep the building intact and preserved, he added.
When Pakistan Today questioned Kamil Khan Mumtaz on the importance of preservation of the monuments, he said that the monuments are our local heritage, which is why they need to be preserved.
Tania was of the opinion that there are hard and fast rules followed by the authorities when working to conserve a monument because there are different charters of conservation. While giving the example of the Lahore Fort, which is in the process of documentation in order to be conserved, she stated, “Lahore Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so concerned charters of conservation will be followed. UNESCO itself will be involved, so I don’t think authentication is lost during conservation, she said.
The picture wall at the entrance of Lahore Fort has bits and pieces of the fresco painting left, so when conserving it, the footprints of history will remain intact. Similarly, in Shahi Hamam, as informed to Pakistan Today by another tour guide of the WCLA, Ehtesham, the elevated grilled walkways, the glass covering and the bits and pieces of fresco paintings on the wall are a method of conserving what remains.
When asked what more could be done to preserve the monuments and heritage, and what the drawbacks are of not preserving and what steps are not being taken so far, Kamil said that we are told heritage, history, traditions must not be allowed to stand in the way of progress and development. These things define who we are, where we are, where we are coming from and where we want to go. They define what it means to be human and are the road maps, signposts and guides for our journey, our progress and development towards achieving our goals, to realising our highest potentials, ourselves. Lose these, and you lose the script, he said.
Tania Qureshi said that the authorities have started planning ways to control the traffic in the Walled City, followed by proper parking systems being planned for people visiting Delhi Gate and other historic sites.
Asked if closing down Sheesh Mahal for tourists was an effective method of preserving history, Tania strongly disagreed, saying, “Monument starts damaging if we lock it.”
She said that proper techniques and management should be used to preserve the monument, and added that a living monument needs life around it. If it is open for visitors, people will come in and there will be an automatic chain of cleanliness, she said.
Tania said that heritage is the face of a country and the authorities need to make sure that the future generation does not miss out on its history.
“We need to show the world and the coming generations what was here, what belonged to us and what our forefathers have left for us,” Tania said.
What needs to be done in order to raise awareness is to highlight the monuments, she said.
The government, media and general masses should attract people to the monuments, especially in terms of tourism. This is the responsibility of every pillar of the society to work for preserving heritage through different mediums, Tania concluded.
Photo Credits: Sarim Jawad