A city of wonders and magnificence
Since Lahore originated, it witnessed the seasons of turbulence and tranquillity. It remained a princely state and also got looted during riots. Fortunately, despite several attacks and ransacking Lahore remained in the limelight during different rules and empires of the sub continent. This can be claimed as a city which gave birth to the stories of many writers, scenes for the painters and empires for the rulers. Lahore became a dream city in the 1500s when the Mughal Empire settled here and made it one of the main capitals. Akbar, the Mughal emperor, built a thirty feet high fortified wall around the city with twelve gates. A Mori was made during the British era, which was given the status of a gate later, and now Lahore is known as a city with thirteen gates. Many of the gates have been demolished but almost five are still intact, which were rebuilt during the British era.
Lahore is the cultural capital of Pakistan and one of the largest living cultural centres of the world. This is the only Walled City of the world with natural settlements. One would find generations old traditions and values in this place and people living in the ancestral homes called havelis. The entire structure of the walled city is based on Mohallahs, Koochas, Katras and streets. One would find the narrowest streets of the world inside the walled city of Lahore. It represents centuries-old civilisation with contributions by Afghans, Tughluqs, Lodhis, Hindus, Mughals, Sikhs and the British. Remnants of these eras are still found in every street, nook and corner of the walled city. That’s why it’s a city of wonders and magnificence.
Lahore’s architectural beauty and its cultural richness is to be found in every cranny of the walled city: the wooden balconies and jharokas, the monuments which include mosques, Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras, the havelis, and the World Heritage site of Lahore Fort– all tokens of a rich and splendorous past. The city’s age-old cultural character is to be found in its narrow winding streets, the colour and hustle and bustle of its bazaars, the food and the numerous festivals. Some of the largest markets of Asia are found inside the walled city which include the spice market, shoe markets, cloth markets and many more.
Lahore’s walled city possesses thousands of buildings of architectural merit. After 1947 the beauty of the city could not be kept intact and several alterations and additions jeopardised the grandeur subconsciously. The greatest threat to the city’s heritage was the scale of endless commercialisation. The eruption of wholesale markets of various goods that cater to Lahore at large, and to regional and national markets, was another threat to the heritage and culture. But the economic power contained in these markets has little impact on the state of well being of LWC, as a vast majority of the profits made here are invested elsewhere. This factor has had a significant impact on the residential quarters at several levels: change of traditional land use; conversion or demolition of residential buildings; outflow of population historically (and culturally) associated with the walled city; and an influx of (low income) rural migrants seeking jobs in the metropolitan centre.
Against the backdrop of this prolonged neglect of the country’s prime urban heritage, in 2005, the government of Punjab launched an initiative for the conservation and rehabilitation of this historic city. At last the last sighs of the city were heard. A comprehensive strategic plan was prepared which recognised that the Walled City in itself was an object of conservation and redevelopment, and aimed to resolve the several planning conflicts that existed between the historic city and greater Lahore. Later the Aga Khan Trust for culture came in as a partner and a small project was converted into an autonomous Authority known today as Walled City of Lahore Authority.
The teams did not want to shelf the documents and studies made on the walled city so they planned to demonstarte the techniques of conservation in a small portion for which the area of Delhi Gate to Lahore Fort was selected. This area was known as the Shahi Guzargah or the Royal Trail. This trail had immense value in terms of the heritage and monuments. The Shahi Guzargah links many of the landmark monuments of the Walled City, including the Delhi Gate, Shahi Hammam, the Chowk Wazir Khan Wazir Khan Mosque, Sonheri Masjid, Chuna Mandi Girls College, the Begum Shahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort. The same route is enriched with havelis and heritage homes. The trail was named as Shahi Guzargah because some of the historians report that it was used by the emperors and Mughal entourages while coming from Delhi and going to Lahore Fort by passing the city.
The implementation of the Pilot Urban Conservation and Infrastructure Improvement Project—the Shahi Guzargah Project—was launched in 2012 by the new Walled City of Lahore Authority. The first stage of this project, from Delhi Gate to Chowk Purani Kotwali just beyond the Wazir Khan Mosque, was restored, conserved and completed in 2015.
This project aimed at carrying out urban rehabilitation, urban conservation and upgrading of trunk and distribution infrastructure as facets of the conservation of cultural heritage in the Walled City.
In its interventions, the project has been an extremely complex but rich and rewarding one. Beginning from Delhi Gate, walled city of Lahore authority has restored a 383-meter long stretch of the heritage trail leading up to Chowk Kotwali. The trail comprises 54 streets, 655 Houses and 157 shops. The Project encompassed the rehabilitation of the street facades of nearly 850 buildings, and most of the repairs were carried out in traditional building materials such as kankar lime mortars and brick work using small historic bricks.
The new services include underground high voltage electricity (and the disappearance of messy tangled up wirescape so typical of cities in South Asia), new orderly ways of distributing electricity connections to consumers, new telecommunications infrastructure, new gas delivery lines, new trunk water supply services and water supply networks in the tiny streets. To provide better standards of public health the sewerage network was separated from a new storm water drainage service. The project also included removal of shops and other properties that had encroached into the public right of way, and the provision of street pavements and urban furniture. The transformers destructing the views and monuments were removed and all the hanging wires were laid underground.
For the first time, the faces of two monuments Shahi Hamam and Wazir Khan Mosque have been exposed by removing the encroachments upon its façade. 57 shops from Shahi Hamam and 72 shops covering Wazir Khan Mosque have been permanently removed. The purpose of the removal of these encroachments was to bring the monuments and streets back to their original glory.
With a cost of Rs500 million, some of the lost glory has been brought back and the entire locality looks changed. There are tourists visiting the site and appreciating the efforts. I hope the same is replicated very soon in other parts of the walled city of Lahore to save what is left.