Lahore Fort has a history of more than 1000 years in its architecture. A combination of great buildings of Mughal-era. In this article, we take a trip down the history lane to look at the masterpiece of Mughal Architecture named Lahore Fort or Shahi Qila.
Embodying several colors of culture and tradition, this Fort is one of a kind in terms of its beauty and majestic impression. Palaces, gardens, sleeping chambers, museums, the world’s largest mirror palace, and from the picture wall it has the complete story of Mughal-era construction.
Spread on an area of approx. 50 acres, this centuries-old Royal Fort is an example of brilliance in architecture and world heritage.
The mao of this building is slightly incorrect. The Gate opposite to the gate of Badshahi Masjid is Alamgiri Gate while the Roshnai Gate on the left in this map is actually on the right of this map.
“Lahore Fort is not merely a name of a building. It has kings’ names attached to it. It has intellectuals attached to it. Also has poets attached to it. It has artists attached to it. Musicians attached to it.”Dr. M. Iqbal Chawla – Head of History Department – Punjab University.
“Buildings represent the knowledge, intelligence, and creative abilities of the society.”Dr. Mubarak Ali – Historian.
“One of the facts of Imperialism is to construct these kinds of massive and beautiful buildings to put the psychological impression on the common people and other rich people. This is a kind of message basically to show the choice and wealth status of the king. These messages are not merely written in books, instead, these constructed buildings are the live example of it.”Dr. Ghafer Shahzad – Architect.
Inhabited on the banks of River Ravi for 2000 years or more, the heart of Pakistan and capital of Punjab, this historic city of Lahore is still the epicenter of culture and tourism.
This centuries-old fort glorifies the beauty of Lahore city and is located at the North of Lahore, and opposite the majestic Badshahi masjid.
Hindus inhabited this fort before Muslims and the proof of which is Loh Temple inside Lahore Fort. We get evidence from Archeological excavations and historic books that in the 11th Century before Mehmood Ghaznavi captured this city, this fort and this city has been the epicenter of culture and traditions.
“Since we do not have the written history so we cannot say that when this city was built. For Lahore Fort, we have heard that this city of Lahore got famous in the times of Mehmood Ghaznavi. Before these times the city of Lahore was not that much famous.”Dr. Mubarak Ali – Historian.
“History of Lahore, Fort’s history, Muslims history, Sikhs history, British history, Mughals history, Sultanate of Delhi’s history, Hindus history, Jain history, Buddhist history, and any known history is related to this fort.”Dr. M. Iqbal Chawla – Head of History Department – Punjab University.
Lahore had historic importance in the Mughal era. Mughal rulers gave more importance to this beautiful historic city more than Delhi and Agra for construction and kingdom matters. They constructed such beautiful buildings in the Lahore fort which in terms of architecture is an example for the Indo-Pak subcontinent and the whole world.
“There were Different rulers in the Mughal era and their construction styles were different from each other. The taste was different. ”Dr. Ghafer Shahzad – Architect.
“I have seen different forts in the world. I think architecturally and artistic construction similar to this will be hard to see in the Fort category.”Dr. Kamran Lashari – Director-General WCLA.
Mughal Emperor Jalal-ud-Din Mohammad Akbar constructed the Lahore fort from burnt bricks to safeguard his kingdom from the attackers of the northwest. Akbar’s construction of the Fort includes Dolat Khana (Treasury) for special and normal people, Jharoka Darshan and Akbari Gate.
Akbari Gate of Lahore Fort
Gate Akbari is an opening towards the East is also known as Masjidi Darwaza (Gate).
The Akbari Gate served as the main entrance to the fort during the Mughal era. It is physically less impressive than the Alamgiri gate which replaced its counterpart at the west side of the fort during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb. The gate is also known as the Masti (Masjid) Darwaza after the Maryam Zamani Masjid adjacent to the fort. Its outer facade comprises a central arch flanked by two semi-octagonal bastions topped with a crenelated wall–the same overall design used at the Alamgiri gate, though less boldly ornamented.
Known for its strength and durability, Akbari gate has faced many wars. We can still see the expertise of the centuries-old artworks of the great artisans of the Akbar-era on the walls.
“Akbar spent a long time over here, so he had his court here. His ministers and royal court members also constructed buildings here. This city’s importance grew very much when this was made capital for 13 years.”Dr. Mubarak Ali – Historian.
Famous for his love for his Queen Noor Jahan and Chain of Justice, Emperor Jehangir continued Mughal-era constructions in Lahore Fort.
Jahangir’s Quadrangle occupies the northeast corner of the fort and is the largest quadrangle along the north wall. Construction actually began during the reign of Jahangir’s father, Akbar, but was completed under Jahangir in 1617-18. Akbar’s influence can be seen in the use of column brackets that are carved in the form of animals–a typical feature of Akbar’s syncretic architecture
The north end of the quadrangle is dominated by the Barri Khwabgah, Jahangir’s sleeping chamber. Although it is a British-era reconstruction of the original, the north wall is thought to have survived from Jahangir’s era. The smaller Seh Dahri pavilion to the east was added during the Sikh period.
Started during Akbari-era, Jahangiri Quadrangle was designed similar to Irani (Persian) Bagh e Firdaus. In the center of the quadrangle is Emperor Jahangir’s Khwab gaah (sleeping chamber).
This quadrangle is a little bit different from the usual Mughal-era quadrangles. The construction of the gardens and fountains have been carefully proportioned. Big halls with prominent use of red sandstone in construction are constructed on the right and left of the quadrangle.
“In this period, Hindu style was mostly used in the construction and decorations. Later with the stronghold of Mughals, the central Asian and Persian symbolism was found more and the Hindu style of construction was reduced.”Dr. Mubarak Ali – Historian.
Picture Wall or Paint Wall of Lahore Fort
“Jahangir a magnificent ruler, and a person with such great sense as he was a very nice painter himself. He was such an observer that he could identify which painter has painted the lips and which had painted the eyes. We can observe these collections on the picture wall as well.”Dr. Ghafer Shahzad – Architect.
450m lengthy and 17m high, this picture wall, was started by Mughal Emperor Jahangir 400 years ago. This wall is evidence of Jahangir’s love for painting and art.
This wall is decorated with glazed tiles, mosaic, and frescos. The scenes portrayed on the wall show the Mughal-era court happenings, and their sporting activities and past times.
“I consider picture wall as the uniqueness of this fort. You will not find such kind of ornamentation in any fort for instance Topkapi of Turkey or the Tower of London. It’s the longest picture wall more than half a kilometer.”Dr. Kamran Lashari – Director-General WCLA.
This wall has deteriorated due to weather effects. A few years ago, the Walled City of Lahore Authority and Agha Khan Trust for culture studied this wall in detail using a 3D scanner and which has enabled the ongoing restoration works.
“We have started restoring it, one part is completed. 2nd section will also be restored in 2 to 3 years’ time. We also have lit up the picture wall. It will create a different scenario.”Dr. Kamran Lashari – Director-General WCLA.
Hathi Paer Stairs
The Hathi Paer stairs are located at the northwest corner of the fort, just south of the Shah Burj Quadrangle. They were designed with extremely wide treads and shallow riser height to allow royal elephants to ascend from ground level to the top of the fort. The stairs form a three-sided courtyard with the south wall having been demolished to create a modern path into the fort from the southeast. The only original entrance to the courtyard was through the Hathi Pol, a large gateway at its southwest corner. The exterior of the Hathi Pol is integrated into Jahangir’s Paint Wall ensemble.
Lahore Fort Stables
The stables at Lahore Fort were built during the British occupation and were not part of the Fort’s original design.
Diwan e Aam of Lahore Fort
During his rule, Shahjahan started the construction of great structures in Lahore Fort. First, one he commissioned was Deewan e Aam (Court for the citizens). Based on Iranian (Persian) design, this hall has 40 pillars. This structure of Deewan e Aam was constructed in the 16th century by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan to meet the citizens of his empire.
The Diwan e Aam Hall occupies a place of prominence within Lahore fort, sitting immediately to the south of the royal jharokha (royal audience dais) which had been in use since the reign of Jahangir. During that time it was customary for noblemen to take shelter within tents near the jharokha. Shah Jahan constructed the Diwan-i Amm hall as a more permanent and aesthetically pleasing space for noblemen to gather.
The hall was destroyed by cannon fire in 1841 during the succession struggle following the deaths of Kharak Singh and his son Nau Nihal on the same day. The British reconstructed the pavilion in 1846 when they took control of Lahore.
The Shahjahan Quadrangle is a classic Chahar bagh (four-part garden) dominated by the imposing Diwan e Khas (Hall of Special Audience) at the north end of the courtyard. Here, the Emperor would meet with his subjects in the daily darshan ceremony (“darshan” means “sight” and “beholding” in Sanskrit). The Diwan e Khas is square in plan with five bays of lobed arches on three sides. The north facade includes delicate jali screens that overlook the northern ramparts of the fort. A shallow fountain sits at the center of the pavilion.
The south side of the quadrangle includes the Khwabgah-i-Shahjahani (Shah Jahan’s Sleeping Chamber). The emperor ordered the construction of these rooms in 1633 while traveling from Lahore to Kashmir. Unfortunately, the structure has been mostly stripped of architectural ornament except for the delicate jali screens along its south facade.
Diwan e Khas of Lahore Fort
The beautiful structure of Diwan e Khas (Court of Special guests) was also constructed by Emperor Shahjahan. This mesmerizing structure of marble was made for guests of different states and royal guests to meet the ruler. It was converted to a church during British Rule.
The use of marble is prominent in the buildings constructed during the Shahjahan era.
“When Shahjahan became the ruler, It was the peak of Mughal-era. Conquests were done, Most of the India was conquered, they got enormous wealth by conquering and most of the funds were spent on these constructions.”Dr. Mubarak Ali – Historian.
“Shahjahan was personally interested in building big monuments. He himself designed these structures. He knew what he was making.”Dr. Muhammad Hameed – Head of Archeology department, Punjab University.
This quadrangle was constructed in 1633 as the private residence of Emperor Shah Jahan. It is divided into northern and southern portions with the south area comprising the Paien Bagh (Lower Garden) and the north section containing the private apartments of the Emperor and his harem. The quadrangle was a self-contained world, equipped with a mosque in its southwest corner and rooms for guards and servants along the perimeter, as well as baths (hammam).
Paien Bagh’s quadrangle is also known as Harem of Emperor Shahjahan. This garden was reserved for the female members of the royal family. We can feel today what was here 400 years ago. The royal bath in Harem is a paradigm of architecture.
“Shahi Qila(Lahore Fort) is a very unique place and is one of the best monuments in Pakistan. Here you will find different architecture. You will feel different cultures here. You will even find roman technology. Also will find Royal Bath and Turkish architecture. Harem of Jahangir and Shahjahan. Moreover, it has beautiful gardens. Cascades, Fountians, and scented water used to pass through them. It was something very different and unique.”Muhammad Javed – Tourism Incharge, WCLA.
This summer pavilion stands in the northwest corner of the Khilawat Khana quadrangle. Its present form differs substantially from its original design during Shah Jahan’s reign. During the Sikh period, an upper level was added, and the British made numerous alterations including the addition of a liquor bar. The interior frescos dating from the Mughal and Sikh eras were also plastered over at this time.
Like the nearby Kala Burj (Black Pavilion), the Lal Burj was built during the reign of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Octagonal in plan, it was used as a summer pavilion with its primary windows open to the north. The surviving interior frescoes are mostly from the Sikh period, as is the upper level.
Shah Burj Quadrangle
The Shah Burj Quadrangle stands at the northwest corner of Lahore Fort. Built by Shah Jahan in 1632, it served as the residence of the Empress when she visited Lahore. Largely spared the damage and abuse that other areas of the fort suffered during the British Occupation and Sikh period, it remains the grandest and most opulent reminder of Mughal splendor in Lahore today.
Shah Burj Quadrangle consists of various pavilions like Sheesh Mahal, Pari Mahal, Naulakha and the facade of Paint or Picture Wall on the external side of it.
Sheesh Mahal of Lahore Fort
Shahjahan commissioned a separate palace for his dearest queen Mumtaz. It was named Shah Burj. The most unique structure in Mughal-era is the building of Sheesh Mahal. The roofs and walls are decorated with countless mirrors.
“I consider Sheesh Mahal as a wonder of the world. I believe this the best, or the pinnacle, or the peak, and the epitome of Mughal aesthetics is reflected in this Sheesh Mahal.”Dr. Kamran Lashari – Director-General WCLA.
“The use of mirrors in Sheesh Mahal is very unique and different in Mughal-era. The motive of the building was to enhance its beauty at night. An upgrade from other buildings of the time. The curves of the mirrors reflected the lights in multiple colors when an oil lamp would be placed due to which the scenario inside the building was a beautiful and like an elegant dream.”Dr. Ghafer Shahzad – Architect
Even today, this building is elegant and is considered the most unique structure in Lahore Fort. The structure is made of marble and the walls are decorated with frescos and use of pietra dura.
“This is the largest Mirror Palace with respect to size constructed in 1632 in Shahjahan-era. We can see the beautiful frescos which the Queen did not like. So the mirrors were added. These concave, convex mirrors were brought in from Syria.”Muhammad Javed – Tourism Incharge, WCLA
During Sikh-era Sheesh Mahal was the favorite building of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He also made a Harem on the roof of Sheesh Mahal. This delicate and intriguing work is a reflection of Mughal’s greatness and the most unique and elegant part of Lahore Fort.
This is the reason for which Emperor Shahjahan is considered the king of architectural designs in the Mughal era.
This beautiful Sheesh Mahal is the point of interest and focus of the tourists.
“This represents our culture, the culture which has been carried forward for centuries. There is nothing new to it. Ofcourse, modernism and changes have played their parts, but the basics are still the same. And I think this is different from than the rest of the world.”– Tourist.
Naulakha Pavilion of Lahore Fort
In the Sheesh Mahal Quadrangle, the circular/dome-shaped roof is the Naulakha Pavilion is a unique and beautiful building of the Lahore Fort. It was previously decorated with precious stones costing an astounding 9 Lakhs at the time of construction and hence it is called Naulakha Pavilion.
During Sikh rule, the roof was changed.
“This is a precious building. It was precious because of different precious and costly stones were carved and used in it. Even if you see now, the inlay works in marble which is known as pietra dura, we see that in Naulakha.”Dr. Ghafer Shahzad – Architect.
Pari Mahal (Summer Palace) of Lahore Fort
Beneath Shah Burj Quadrangle and Sheesh Mahal is a building known as Pari Mahal. It is also known as Summer Palace. During Shahjahan-era, this building was constructed in a special way so that the summer days can be spent. It was kept cool in summer because of its design to flow the cooler air through it.
“It an open space, an wide open palace, where it feels cool. If the above temperature is 40 and if you go down to Summer Palace, the temperature will be around 18 at this time in 2021. Imagine how different it would have been 400 years before when the river was also passing nearby.”Muhammad Javed – Tourism Incharge, WCLA.
Moti Masjid of Lahore Fort
In 1645 Mughal Emperor Shahjahan in Lahore Fort constructed a beautiful masjid decorated with pearls and hence it was named Moti Masjid. Corridors with alcoves, Domes, and due to elegant artwork, this masjid is a precious example of architecture.
The Moti Masjid, or Pearl Mosque, is a relatively small structure located on the western side of the fort. It is built entirely of white marble mined from the town of Makrana in contemporary Rajasthan. The mosque is one of the few buildings inside the fort that deviate from the overall north-south orientation of the complex, satisfying the liturgical requirement that the mosque’s mihrab (central niche) face directly toward Mecca.
As is the case with many mosques, the outward appearance of the Moti Masjid is dull and unpretentious. It can only be accessed through a small door at the northeast located near the Makatib Khana. The mosque’s antechamber is long and dimly lit, creating a sense of enclosure that is suddenly relieved when the visitor crosses the threshold into the mosque’s courtyard. All at once, the visitor is confronted with a brightly lit panorama of gleaming marble that visibly proclaims the purity of the mosque in direct contrast to the world that surrounds it.
The facade of the Moti Masjid is divided into five bays with the central bay protruding slightly forward into the courtyard. The five-bay facade was a favored Mughal motif that was first seen at the Maryam Zamani Mosque and subsequently employed at most major Mughal mosques. The Moti Masjid differs from the Maryam Zamani precedent in the inclusion of two transverse aisles along the western wall instead of one.
Lahore’s Moti Masjid was not the only “Pearl Mosque” built in the Mughal era. Mosques with the same name may also be found in Agra and Delhi, as it was a common Mughal practice to name mosques after precious stones. The word “Pearl” also refers to the lustrous surface of the marble, resembling a pearl, as well as the mosque’s comparatively small size.
The Maktab Khana is a small cloistered court immediately adjacent to the Moti Masjid. The word Maktab Khana is a corruption of the word makatib khana, or Clerk’s Room, suggesting that this was a place where clerks (muharirs) recorded entry into the fort. It is a Persian-style compound with pointed-arch arcades and deep iwans at the center of each of the four sides. However, an inscription found above the main entrance records that it was built under the supervision of Ma’mur Khan in 1617-18 and identifies the site as the “Daulat Khana-i-Jahangiri”, the “Residence of Jahangir”. It is therefore likely that the Maktab Khana is a surviving fragment of a much larger mansion complex serving the Emperor
After Shahjahan, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir took the least interest in construction. He still added the beautiful majestic Alamgiri gate to the Lahore Fort. This gate is still considered the identity of Lahore and a living example of the Mughal style of architecture.
It was likely constructed at the same time as the Badshahi Masjid which it faces. The gate is noted for its heavily fluted bastions crowned with domed pavilions
Hazuri Bagh and Badshahi (Alamgiri) Masjid are exactly at the footsteps of the Alamgiri Gate.
“Alamgiri gate architecture features are very beautiful. Its just like the story of Anarkali (Pomegranate buds) The cap of the strong pillars resembles to top of pomegranate, the pillar shaped like lotus flower represents religious harmony, moreover if you see the base of the pillars it seems like the foot of the elephant showing the strength of the Fort.”Muhammad Javed – Tourism Incharge, WCLA.
After the fall of Mughal-empire, the Lahore Fort and the city were under the rule of Sikhs. In the 17th century, the founder of the Sikh-kingdom, Maharaja Ranjit Singh used Lahore fort as his residence. Naag temple was constructed during Sikh rule. The remains of fresco paintings are still visible on the outer side of the wall.
Kharak Singh’s Haveli & Mai Jindan’s Haveli
Kharak Singh’s Haveli (mansion) and the Seh Daari Jharoka (3 doored window) was also constructed during the Sikh era. Recently Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) constructed the statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in front of Rani Jindan’s Haveli (mansion) which is also an attraction point for tourists.
“Sikhs also used this Fort as a residence. They also used Badshahi Masjid as their storage area for ammunition. Their internal conflicts also inflicted heavy damage to the Fort’s buildings. They did not increase the beauty of the Fort neither they did any effort to beautify or restore the fort. ”Dr. Mubarak Ali – Historian.
“British already kept an eye on the situation but they did not desire to conquer the Delhi at that time frame yet. The Sikhs started fighting internally to be the successor of the throne. The same fight for the throne which was the reason for the downfall of the Mughals it also was the reason for the downfall of the Sikhs.”Dr. M. Iqbal Chawla – Head of History Department – Punjab University.
After the Sikh rule, the East India Company conquered Lahore Fort. And they used the Lahore fort for military and other strategic reasons.
“British also did not add anything to the Lahore Fort. But they started using some parts of Lahore Fort and made it functional. ”Dr. Mubarak Ali – Historian.
In 1928, Lahore Fort was handed over to Archaeologic Department. Due to its historic and cultural importance, the restoration work started in accordance. Apart from the buildings of the Lahore Fort, the precious things and objects of the fort also needed protection.
Different types of precious items, weapons, and other cultural memorabilia are in the Lahore Fort’s museum and are a point of tourist attraction.
UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pakistan’s heritage is now declared a world heritage site by UNESCO. Even after centuries, the architecture, decorations, and history are still alive in it.
This fort is a reflection of the greatness of the Mughal-era and is a great tourist attraction. More than 5 million national and international tourists visit this world heritage site.
Tourism & Conservation
We can say that in Pakistan the complete story of the Mughal-era architecture is portrayed by Lahore Fort alone.
Steps and measures should be taken at Government and individual level to preserve this century’s old constructed masterpiece of architecture and heritage of the world so that we can save it for generations to come.
“This the beginning, to know our country, ourselves, our traditions, our cultures, our history .”Dr. M. Iqbal Chawla – Head of History Department – Punjab University.
“It is very important that intellectuals, officials, educated people to understand, get attached, and value our places. You should visit these places with your children and I assure you that it will be a very happy experience for them.”Dr. Kamran Lashari – Director-General WCLA.
Lit at night, glorifying the beauty of the city of Lahore, and charismatic Lahore Fort is a clear example of the rule and might of our ancestors and forefathers. A nation’s heritage is considered as the reflection of the soul of a nation.
History by night is an initiative of the Walled City of Lahore Authority which is appreciable. 400 years old history, tradition, the majestic rule of Mughal-era is presented in a dramatic way for the interest of tourists.
“This is a dramatic representation of the people and the environment in the Shahjahan and Mughal-era. We have created this environment to show the Fort to people at night time.”Asif Zaheer – Director – WCLA.
A trip on colorful rickshaws inside Lahore Fort and visiting the royal court is a major tourist attraction. The mesmerizing view of Lahore Fort and Sheesh Mahal is the inheritance we got from our Muslim Rulers, our pride, our world heritage, and is living tradition.
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