A heavenly safe haven of the kings
This palace was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a summer house for the royal families. This is the amazing feature of the palace; the ventilation systems keep the place cold during the scorching summer heat and humidity
Have you ever heard of the summer palace there? Let me take you to this stunning basement today. I know you all are always fascinated with the stories of the Lahore Fort basements, the living palaces and the torture cells. Here is this one too. Before I write on the torture cells, I wanted to share this piece on the hidden private chambers of the Kings and Queens.
The summer palace and Sheesh Mahal were known as jewel palaces in 1631. Summer Palace was also known as Pari Mahal (Fairy Palace) but now no one knows much about it as it is hidden from public and also not much information is available on the internet about it. This palace is actually the basement of the Sheesh Mahal, the palace of mirrors. The entrance of the huge decorated basement is from the elephant stairs through a small door. As you will open the door cool breeze will embrace you, it’s the mechanism of the basement. If you go inside it, you will hardly see anything till your eyes familiarise with the dim lights. Only the golden sun rays are peeping in through the windows, the only source of light.
This palace was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a summer house for the royal families. This is the amazing feature of the palace; the ventilation systems keep the place cold during the scorching summer heat and humidity. The labyrinth style basement with tunnels endorse that it was the secret escape route of the royal families. The tunnels led to the River Ravi which was flowing near the Lahore Fort in those times. The boats of the Royal family were parked near the palace and in case of any attack they would have escaped through these tunnels.
You will be mesmerised to see the original fresco work inside the palace. The walls and ceilings were once ornamented with silver, gold and fresco paintings some of which are still seen today. You can get a guide easily at Lahore Fort who can explain the places to you. The local guide told me that the ceilings had no iron or wooden beams or even the cement, rather those were made of grams, white lentils, clay, jiggery, eggs, dried grass, lime plaster and small bricks (the ones found in all Mughal monuments). This mortar worked like glue keeping the small bricks intact and place cold and also helped in preventing the place from insects. I wish we could use the same in our houses presently.
The arches and corners are built in such a manner that they produce an extra ordinary echo system. If you are standing in one corner your whisper can be clearly heard by the person standing in the other corner of the same room. This mechanism is also found in the Shahi Hammam located inside Delhi Gate and the Badshahi Mosque. Maybe it was a technique used by the Mughals to keep an eye on the conspiracies and gossips of the Fort.
About its cold flooring I got to know that underneath the floor was another one and between the two floors a sewerage system was laid through which the water of river Ravi ran, keeping the floors cold. Despite the water running between the floors, I could not see any seepage which we usually see in our houses. Another fact is that the palace is warm during the winter season. So maybe that was some technique or a myth and there was some other reason of its cooling and heating mechanism. Still, it’s a wonder.
Sheesh Mahal has two openings that lead to the summer palace. The summer palace has a mezzanine floor which was the private chamber of the king. The guide told me that the king would sit there to watch over the enemies and the troops, as it was facing the River Ravi. There were forty two water cascades and fountain systems inside the Summer Place and all have become outmoded as they have not been used since ages. It is said by the story tellers that scents and rose water was mixed in water channels so that the palace remained perfumed. The water of these fountains ran underneath the floor and was drained out into the river Ravi. The fountains in the palace were made from the expensive stones which were brought from different parts of the world. These were damaged during the riots and transitions through which the palace went. For lighting, oil lamps with coconut oil were used. The palace was also decorated with the intricate marble inlay work known as pietra dura art. A well, for provision of fresh water, was also made inside the summer palace which is all dried up now.
The tangled palace was built to avoid any attacks by the enemies and even I lost my way a couple of times, thanks to the guide who guided me to the main door. During the British rule, the Summer Palace was given a new entrance from the elephant stairs which we use now. Most of its ornaments were damaged during the Sikh period. The floor of the palace of repaired in early 1900s as it was damaged over the period of time.
The good part is that the Walled City of Lahore Authority and Aga Khan Trust for Culture are restoring this dead place at present. The place will be used as a museum and art gallery after the restoration is completed.