Roof of the recently restored Shahi Hammam, Lahore, Pakistan. Under the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s aegis, th...

AKDN / Matthieu Paley

Kotwali Bazaar, looking west along the north facade of the Wazir Khan Mosque, Walled City of Lahore, Pakistan....

AKDN / Christian Richters

Shahi Hammam, Lahore, Pakistan. In 2013 intensive work focused on the two key monuments of the Shahi Hammam an...

AKDN / Adrien Buchet

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in partnership with the Government of the Punjab and the World Bank, is helpin...

AKDN / Matthieu Paley

Deewan-e-Khass, Lahore Fort, Lahore, Pakistan.

AKDN / Adrien Buchet

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Pakistan | Walled City of Lahore Conservation

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AKTC has won 15 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation in Pakistan

Upon the completion of the Shigar Fort project in 2005, the Government of Pakistan requested the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) to make technical contributions to a World Bank funded area development “pilot” Shahi Guzargah (Royal Trail) project in the Walled city of Lahore.

AKDN / Matthieu Paley

Shahi Guzargah (Royal Trail) Pilot Project

For the pilot project, AKTC-AKCSP provided both technical and financial assistance. The project has been subsumed in a Walled City-wide framework of integrated area development. This framework is contained in a Strategic Plan developed in 2008 and supported by physical and socio-economic baseline data established by AKTC’s Lahore office, and by a new GIS system for the Walled City.

The GIS database contains parcel-level data for 21,800 properties. The data was based on a reconnaissance survey of the entire Walled City and its immediate environs, recording physical features, historicity and heritage value of the built environment on a plot-by-plot basis.

AKTC agreed to intervene in Lahore’s Walled City due to:

  • A sharp decline in population – from 240,000 five decades earlier to 150,000. Historic properties were being demolished or converted into markets and warehouses by the commercial sector. The strategic plan emphasised the importance of improving housing conditions and providing basic social services, thereby arresting further decay and laying the foundation for socio-economic revival.

  • Its unique heritage potential. Local policy makers want to turn the Walled City into a prospective destination for local, national and international visitors. This positive mindset has enabled AKTC to help prepare for the economic development of the Walled City, thereby emphasising an increase in the numbers of visitors and the creation of employment opportunities for local residents.

By implementing the Shahi Guzargah Pilot Project about 13 percent of the Walled City’s geographical area has been rehabilitated, serving about the same component of its residential population. A 15-25 year urban rehabilitation and infrastructure development plan was prepared for the entire Walled City. This integrated utility services with the rehabilitation of bazaar facades and other improvements.

The recently renovated street called Gali Surjan Singh, Lahore, Pakistan. The completed AKTC Gali Surjan Singh project for improved housing has set a high standard for quality.

AKDN / Matthieu Paley

Gali Surjan Singh Conservation Project

In 2010, we undertook the conservation of Gali Surjan Singh as part of a historic homes improvement programme coupled with integration and upgradation of municipal services. It was co-signed with the Government of Punjab and supported in part by a grant from the German Embassy.

Gali Surjan Singh is an offshoot residential street from the Shahi Guzargah, the main boulevard opening through the Walled City’s Delhi Gate. It comprises a series of housing establishments as well as small storefronts with historic and architectural value. These supplement the more monumental cultural value of historical edifices such as the Shahi Hammam and the Wazir Khan Mosque, adding to the variform aspects of the city’s cultural texture.

Such streets had historically not been subject to considerations of aesthetic and architectural maintenance. Our conceptual designs aimed to provide material necessities for residents, together with an aesthetic sensibility in rehabilitating the cityscape and skyline. Infrastructure was overhauled by replacing the water and sewerage pipes with HDPE and UPVC respectively. We also consolidated and reorganised the electricity distribution network using cable that followed the architectural features of the building facades.

The project established design paradigms for both infrastructure and architecture that the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) is replicating on a larger scale in other areas of the Walled City. It was given an Honourable Mention in the 2014 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

Wazir Khan Hammam conservation, Lahore, Pakistan : Representative portions of these excavated remains are being stabilized for an ultimate museal display of the findings.

AKDN / Christian Richters

The Shahi Hammam

AKTC has conserved the 17th-century Mughal period Shahi Hammam, a public bathhouse in Delhi Gate. Interventions included:

  • the exposure, conservation and display of the original waterworks, drainage and heating networks, and historic floor level;

  • procedures to arrest the ingress of water and further structural decay;

  • the restoration of the original entrance, internal chambers and architectural features, including provisions for internal and external illumination; and

  • the conservation of the original frescoes dating from the Mughal period.

The WCLA now manages the hammam as a museum.

The Shahi Hammam, built in 1634 during the reign of Shah Jahan, is a bathhouse constructed in the tradition of Persian and Turkish bathing establishments. It is the only monumental public bathing house in the Subcontinent that survives from that period.

Prior to the conservation work, the Hammam’s northern, western and southern boundary walls were appropriated as makeshift storefronts. Parts of the building’s structure had been adapted to better serve this new commercial function. The originally open drains, having been either built over or obstructed, caused water seepage into the building’s foundations. This greatly contributed to the exfoliation of lime plaster and the considerable loss of many of the building’s frescoes. The Hammam’s interior had also been appropriated by the public sector and put to use variously over time as a boy’s school, a girl’s vocational school, a dispensary and an office for government departments. Meanwhile, most of the north-western chambers had been rented out as shops, completing the obfuscation of the site as a heritage monument.

WCLA compensated the local traders encroaching on the Hammam’s exterior walls in exchange for relocation. A retaining wall was built in order to prevent future encroachments. The street level surrounding the building was then lowered by two metres, allowing the exposure and display of the complete historical facade. During the excavation process, the Hammam’s hypocaust system and furnaces were discovered. They showed how heated water was routed to various bathing chambers, and how the floors were heated through smoke and hot air emanating from the furnaces heating the water. Conservation work was undertaken on the building’s original entrance and architectural features for internal and external illumination, and 65,000 historic bricks were recycled to restore various sections of the Hammam.

The Hammam was opened to the public as a museum site in 2016 and is attracting local and international visitors. Before the current public health crisis, the Hammam was visited by an average of over 30,000 visitors per year. It also provides a venue for holding discreet corporate functions, thus generating enough revenues to maintain the facility on a sustainable basis. Combined with the Lahore Fort, it is increasingly becoming the centrepoint for tourism in the Walled City. In 2016, the Hammam received the Award of Merit as part of the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

The Wazir Khan mosque complex, Lahore, Pakistan.

Wazir Khan Mosque Complex

The Wazir Khan Mosque was built in 1634-35 AD by Hakim ‘Ilm ud din, subedar (governor) of the Lahore province during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It was the largest mosque in Lahore at that time, with the Badshahi Mosque construction still 50 years away. Located about 260 metres inside Delhi Gate, the Wazir Khan Mosque complex sat astride the Shahi Guzargah (Royal Trail), surrounded by the dense organic fabric of the Walled City.

The complex included the mosque itself, the chowk (an urban introductory space), a row of hujras (shops) that were integrated in the entrance system, meant specifically for calligraphers and bookbinders, and additional shops on the eastern and northern facades built into the body of the monument. The profuse architectural decorations that embellish its exterior and interior surfaces place the mosque in the frontline of the major monuments of the Mughal period.

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in partnership with the Government of the Punjab and the World Bank, is helping to revitalise the Walled City of Lahore, in Punjab, Pakistan.

AKDN / Matthieu Paley

Northern Facade

Conservation architects and engineers from AKCSP determined the range of problems and issues the Mosque faced, publishing a report in 2012.

One of these issues was the stability of the foundation of the Mosque. This was threatened by water leaking into eight feet of cultural fill that had accumulated as a result of gradual raising of the street level over centuries. Moreover, the commercial establishments encroaching into the fabric of the Mosque were causing damage to the extensive glazed tile mosaics and painted surface decorations. As efforts to secure funds for the conservation of the entire Mosque were bound to take time, a practical approach was adopted to initiate the conservation in phases.

The conservation and rehabilitation of the 85-metre long northern facade of the Wazir Khan Mosque was completed in 2016, with financial assistance from the Norwegian Government and AKTC and with facilitation by the WCLA. The project involved reclaiming the original street- level, adaptive re-use of the restored hujras as shops to be let out for controlled commercial activities by WCLA, illuminating the facade and rehabilitating the northern facade to form a template for the conservation of the entire Mosque.

Wazir Khan Chowk and Mosque are at the heart of the Walled city of Lahore, Pakistan.

AKDN / Matthieu Paley

Chowk Wazir Khan

Rehabilitation of the Chowk Wazir Khan, the 800-square-metre historic forecourt of the Wazir Khan Mosque, was initiated in 2015 with funding from the United States Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation and AKTC, and facilitation by WCLA.

WCLA took charge of removing and compensating the commercial encroachments that were lining the Chowk and occupying the hujras in the eastern facade of the mosque. This was carried out by a contribution of US$ 300,000 from the Government of Punjab.

The conservation project reclaimed the urban space by:

  • lowering the Chowk to its original level;

  • excavating and restoring the eastern facade and hujras of the Wazir Khan Mosque;

  • conserving the Calligraphers’ Bazaar and the dewrhi (forecourt) of the Mosque;

  • excavating and conserving the Dinanath Well; and

  • rehabilitating the urban open space for the benefit of the community.

Provisions for holding community events and strategic landscaping have turned the rehabilitated Chowk into an oasis of public activity in the heart of a dense urban neighbourhood. It allows for a range of activities such as qawwali (Sufi devotional music) performances and local melas (festivals). The first major event was held on 14 August 2017 by WCLA, celebrating 70 years of independence.

In 2017, the Government of Punjab approved a sum of US$ 5 million over a period of five years for the conservation of the Wazir Khan Mosque proper. Work to fully restore the historic edifice by the end of 2023 is in progress. We are:

  • removing the causes of deterioration, especially the issue of rising damp;

  • undertaking structural stabilisation;

  • restoring surface decorations; and

  • rehabilitating the services network.

View over the picture Wall, Lahore Fort, Pakistan.

AKDN / Matthieu Paley

Lahore Fort

In September 2015, AKCSP began documentation of the Lahore Fort Picture Wall – a mural that adorns the Fort and the principal reason for the site’s inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1981.

The Picture Wall is a 442 metre-long mural spanning the northern and western facades of the Lahore Fort, with an average height of 15 metres. It is adorned with glazed tile and faience mosaics from the Mughal era as well as embellished brickwork, filigree and frescoes. It runs from Hathi Pol (Elephant Gate) to Jahangir’s Quadrangle. Once exposed to the riverside, the Picture Wall was exquisitely decorated during the Mughal period in the reign of Jahangir in 1624 AD and completed under Shah Jahan’s reign in 1632 AD. It shows the themes that preoccupied the royal court of the era – battles (human and animal), angels and demons, fairies, dance and music.

Our engagement with the site started in September 2015 with the documentation of the Picture Wall. This was followed by the documentation of Lahore Fort in its entirety, with funds provided by the Royal Norwegian Embassy. The project has since moved on to include planning for the rehabilitation of the Fort and improving conditions within a buffer zone along its southern and eastern edge. The Lahore Fort Initiative aims to catalyse socio-economic development in the historic Walled City by revamping the tourism management system of the Fort and reactivating currently unused spaces to generate revenue.

In 2017, the Government of Punjab approved a sum of US$ 9 million over a period of five years for the conservation of the Lahore Fort and its monuments. AKCSP has completed the conservation of the Royal Kitchen, Sheesh Mahal, Naulakha Pavilion and the Fort’s rainwater management system. The conservation of the Picture Wall will be completed by the end of 2022.

Lahore Fort Complex (Shahi Qila), Shahjehan's Quadrangle, the Diwaan-e-Khaas, Lahore, Pakistan.

AKDN / Christian Richters

Expected Impact

The Strategic Plan for the Walled City is being implemented in phases involving different sections. In the areas of the Walled City where AKTC has concentrated its efforts, we expect an increased number of rehabilitated monuments and improvements in housing conditions for local residents, access to utilities by these residents, access for visitors to historic monuments and safety on the street.

The completed AKTC Gali Surjan Singh project for improved housing has set a high standard for quality and is already being replicated on a larger scale by the WCLA. The project was recognised by a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award in 2014.

The removal of makeshift retail outlets that for decades have obscured important historic monuments along major arteries within the Walled City, as well as the rehabilitation of these monuments, is already having substantial visual and psychological impact – leading to an increase in the number of visitors to the area.

A significant impact of these initiatives has been the enhanced tourism and capacity building of local people in the trades of conservation and related disciplines. This expands the available resource pool of conservation-related experts and craftspeople, and enhances economic opportunities for locals. AKCSP has been able to impart practical skills to local youth through its internship programme for on-the-job training. Some of these interns have been absorbed within the AKCSP personnel, while others have secured jobs with WCLA and its contractors working on conservation projects in the Walled City and elsewhere.

Renovation work on Wazir Khan Mosque - The Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in partnership with the Government of the Punjab and the World Bank, is helping to revitalise the Walled City of Lahore, in Punjab, Pakistan.

AKDN / Matthieu Paley

Project Partners

There is growing awareness about Lahore’s historic and socio-cultural importance, particularly its Mughal heritage, amongst prominent businessmen, political leaders and the higher educated. This awareness and their acknowledgment of the high standards of AKTC’s conservation and rehabilitation efforts have led to a number of key partnerships.

They include the Government of Punjab, the Walled City of Lahore Authority, the World Bank, the Royal Norwegian Embassy, the Embassy of Germany, the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, New Jubilee Insurance and Habib Bank Limited.

Watch more about Walled City of Lahore Conservation

Watch an interview with Zeina Naseer, conservation scientist