Lahore heritage – Preserving beauty of ancient times

LAHORE: Dating back hundreds of years, Lahore is known for its culture, festivals, rich cuisine and above all the glory of ancient Mughal-era architecture. Ever been also known as a ‘Walled City’ or ‘City of Gardens,’ this provincial capital of the largest Punjab province always presented itself as unique among other cities.

Housing over 11 million people, this revered city also boasts to be the centre of great architecture of 16th to 19th century when Mughal emperors erected unmatched structures.

Although some of its 13 gates – the Delhi, Lohari, Akbari, Roshnai, Yakki, Bhati, Kashmiri, Sheran-wala, Masti, Mori, Mochi, Shah Alam and Texali Gate – some can still be seen but giving a dilapidated look.

Having a uniform pattern of structure, the peculiar architecture of the Mughal era is manifested through slender minarets at the corners, large bulbous domes, massive halls, grand vaulted gateways and delicate ornamentation.

But with the passage of time, the grandeur of these buildings faded although the respective government initiated a number of projects to protect this ancient heritage of the Mughal era.

“This heritage speaks highly of great Muslim rulers of the past. But, over the period, their glory faded away,” said Dr. Irshad Ahmad, a local historian. “Ill-planned construction in the old city areas and encroachments to the historical sites has marred the beauty of these buildings.”

The old city of Lahore, once upon a time was surrounded by a nine-meter high brick wall with edifices like Badshahi Mosque, Shahi Fort, Gurdwara Dera Sahib, Shalamar Garden and a number of other structures portraying the majestic lives of emperors and kings of the gone old days.

Despite being centuries old, these structures even today fascinate tourists who throng these places every year as they watch with awe a circular road around the rampart, providing access to the city through splendidly constructed gates.

“Today, except for a handful of elite monuments, a number of other Mughal-era buildings and sites are presenting a deserted look,” Irshad Ahmed said. “Many among them had been blemished with countless holes with walls, arches and ceilings mostly in poor condition.”

The city’s historical Chauburji, a 17th-century monument, once a gateway to a lovely garden, has now been overshadowed by the newly constructed overhead railway line for the Orange Line train. “Its beauty could have been protected by constructing a tunnel for the train service,” Irshad highlighted.

The large garden around the Chauburji is currently encircled by multi-storey commercial buildings and shops, apart from countless honking vehicles, passing from there round-the-clock.

The same picture is depicted by the mausoleum of Asif Khan, a governor of Lahore, and the commander-in-chief of Mughal emperor, Jehangir. A plaque fixed at the entrance of the tomb reads how spectacular it was when constructed in the 17th century. But today, this octagonal structure with a high bulbous double tomb tells the tale of its pathetic condition. The 10-kilometre area from Zeb-un-Nisa’s tomb to Shalamar Gardens was also once full of heritage buildings and sites.

According to an official at the Punjab Archeology Department since 2015 over 400 heritage sites across the province including 160 in Lahore, had been declared safe and protected. “Repair or conservation work on some 50 sites is continuing, besides a survey being carried out to identify more sites for preservation.”

Deputy Secretary Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Imran Gondal also informed that in 2005, the Punjab government, in collaboration with Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), made technical contributions to the World Bank-funded area development project, known as the Shahi Guzargah (Royal Trail) project, in the Walled City of Lahore.

“After completion of a section of the project in 2014, Gali Surjan Singh, located inside Lahore’s Delhi Gate, had been recognized by UNESCO as part of the Asia-Pacific award for cultural heritage conservation,” he added.

Keeping in view the situation, the Punjab government has apportioned Rs 600 million ($5.5 million) this year for repairing and conserving archeological sites in the province, including Lahore city.

Commenting on the situation, Director General Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) Kamran Lashari has said that over the years, the Authority had been diligently working on numerous conservation projects for reviving and preserving the glory of Mughal era buildings.

“Over the years, we are working on this project and have gone a long way in the restoration of the heritage in this cultural city,” Lashari said.

“Walled City of Lahore is a World Heritage site, having around 2,000 wonderful buildings. These buildings display a wide range of architectural features that reflect Lahore’s centuries-old cultural heritage landscape,” he added.

He said the WCLA has, so far, restored a 383-metre-long heritage trail running from the Walled City’s Delhi Gate to Chowk Purani Kotwali market area. “The restoration involves replacement of infrastructure and services including underground telecommunications, electricity, gas, water and sewerage, encroachment removal, street paving and street furniture.”

The Punjab government had passed the WCLA Act in April 2012 and declared the Walled City of Lahore as an autonomous body to preserve the heritage.

Since the ‘Temple of Learning’ is endowed with valuable age-old heritage, therefore its preservation and repair would not only flourish the tourism business but also keep our coming generations abreast of the glorious eras of the Muslims rulers of the sub-continent.

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