Lahore History Tour – Installment #1

There are a few of us in the group here writing about current events but no one writing about Lahore’s illustrious history and the architectural jewels that abound here. Though many of them may not be well preserved or cared for, I hope if more of us know a bit more about them, it might change some hearts so, that we can learn to better care for our heritage. I start today with one of the most famous of Lahore’s monuments – Lahore Fort or Shahi Qila


Lahore Fort is on the northwest corner of the historic city of Lahore. Although the origin of this fort goes deep into antiquity, the present fortifications were begun by Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar. There is evidence that a mud fort was in existence here in 1021, when Mahmud of Ghazni invaded this area. Akbar demolished the old mud fort and constructed most of the modern fort on the old foundations. The fort’s mud construction dates back to the early Hindu period. The fort is mentioned in connection with Muhammad Sam’s invasions of Lahore in 1180, 1184, and 1186. It was ruined by the Mongols in 1241, and then rebuilt by Balban in 1267. It was again destroyed by Amir Taimur’s army in 1398, to be rebuilt in mud by Sultan Mubarak Shah in 1421, then taken and repaired by Shaikh Ali. The present fort, in brick and solid masonry, was built during Akbar’s time between 1556 and 1605. Every succeeding Mughal emperor, as well as the Sikhs and the British, added a pavilion, palace, or wall to the Lahore Fort, making it the only monument in Pakistan which represents a complete history of Mughal architecture. The Royal Fort is rectangular. There are two huge gates in the fortifications, one each in the middle of the east and the west sides. The west gate, known as Alamgiri Gate, faces the grand Badshahi Mosque and opens into Hazuri Bagh. The east gate, known as Masti Gate, built in 1666 during Akbar’s reign, was the original entrance. Alamgiri Gate, a magnificent double-storey gate, was built by Emperor Mohiuddin Aurangezeb Alamgir in 1673. The imposing semicircular bastions flanking the gateway have lotus petals at their base and are highly fluted, crowned with small, graceful domed kiosks. The fortification wall is built of small burnt bricks strengthened with semicircular bastions at regular intervals.

Akbar’s Daulat Khana-i-Khas and Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Private and Public Audience) includes a Jharoka (State Balcony) of white marble. It is supported by four handsome brackets of red sandstone. The interior of the double-storey apartments is decorated with stucco tracery in relief, in geometric as well as floral designs. The decorative motifs were gilded. The Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Public Audience) is an open hall of forty lofty pillars of red sandstone. Standing on a large rectangular platform, the hall measures 187 feet by 60 feet and rises to a height of 34 feet. On the second storey, there are beautiful cusped marble arches at the back of the building, looking down to Jahangir’s quadrangle.

Jahangir’s quadrangle was begun by Akbar and completed by Jahangir in 1618 AD. On the east and west, it is surrounded by a row of dalans (porticoes) in the trabeate (beam and bracket) style. The brackets are in animal form. There is a large garden inside the quadrangle with a spacious tank in the centre. Jahangir’s sleeping chamber, in the middle of the north side, is known as the Bari Khawabgah.

East of the Lal Burj in Shah Jahan’s quadrangle is the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience). It is a graceful arched pavilion built in pure white marble. Its parapet is embellished with pietra dura work. It has a marble ceiling, and floors in beautiful geometric patterns in marble. A building dating from the reign of Ranjit Singh known as the Athdara (“building with eight openings”) was used as a court of justice. It is a combination of white marble and red sandstone. The row of five rooms opposite Diwan-i-Khas are the sleeping chambers of Shah Jahan. He entrusted this work to Wazir Khan, the governor of Lahore, who completed it in 1633. Near the Khawabgah is the Turkish-style Hamman-i-Shahi (Royal Bath), also built by Shah Jahan in the same year.

The Shish Mahal, or Palace of Mirrors, was the work partly of Shah Jahan and partly of Aurengzeb. Built under the superintendence of Asif Khan in Shah Jahan’s reign, it was completed in 1632. The palace consists of a spacious, lofty hall in front with several rooms behind and on either sides of it. The main decorative features are mosaic work in convex mirror glass (the so-called Aleppo glass) with stucco tracery, gilt work, pietra dura, and a marble screen of extraordinary beauty. A spacious courtyard in front of the chambers is paved with stone slabs of various types of variegated marble, such as Sang-e-badal, Sang-e-abri, Sang-e-musa, and Sang-e-khatter. There is a shallow water basin in the centre of the courtyard. It is round in shape and has four fountains.

Naulakha Pavilion is located on the western side of the Shish Mahal court. It consists of a single rectangular room in marble with a typical convex roof. Built by Shah Jahan in 1632, it has three openings in front, one on each side, and a perforated marble screen at the back. It is a superb specimen of extremely minute and delicate pietra dura work in semi-precious stone, with beehive ornamentation on its pillars.

The Hathi Paer (Elephant Path), built by Shah Jahan in 1632, is a brick staircase 19 feet wide with 58 low, broad steps. It was used by elephants carrying royalty. The part of the wall of the Elephant Steps towards the fort’s inner gate is scarred by bullet marks, bearing testimony to the Sikh Civil War of 1847 A.D. A party of Sikhs had mounted their guns on one of the minarets of Badshahi mosque across the courtyard from where they fired on their opponents.

The exterior fort wall on the north and northwest presents a series of mosaic tile panels which are among the most remarkable in the world. Running in a continuous line, the wall was commenced by Jahangir and completed by Shah Jahan in 1632. It is nearly 1,500 feet in length and 55 feet in height, adorned with panels of tile mosaics and fresco paintings.

The fort has two museums, one located in the Bari Khawabgah in Jahangir’s quadrangle and the other comprising two new galleries in Dalan Sange Surkh in Moti Mosque Quadrangle. The old museum, known as the Army Museum, preserves arms and armour captured by the British in their war with the Sikhs. The Sleeping Chamber of Mai Jindan houses a very interesting museum with relics from Mughal and the Sikh periods.

1 Comment so far

  1. hum log (unregistered) on July 15th, 2006 @ 2:13 am

    Very well written and researched piece Raza.Keep it up.The next in line should be, if i may suggest?
    Jahangir’s & Noor Jahaan’s tombs and Qutub-ud-din Aibak’s tomb.I’m particularly interested in later one as it doesn’t get much mentioning like other historical monuments of a Lahore ( although thousands walk in the adjoining bazaar daily without being aware of the presence of such significant part of history of this city).

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