arch-peace editorials

25 February 2019

Walled City of Lahore

Figure 1. New construction of Chowk Purani Kotwali - formerly a police kiosk in Mughal times. Street hawkers circle the avenue with their food stalls.
Image credit: IKAN Engineering Services

With a history reaching back more than 2000 years, Lahore has evolved gradually but continuously from a nonentity into a metropolitan city. Lahore is the second most populous city of Pakistan and the provincial capital of Punjab. It lies on the north-eastern part of Punjab and is close to the border of India [Figure 2]. It has almost always been the center of attention of the finest Mughals, as well as the British; so much so that in 1670 John Milton could not help but write: “Agra and Lahore, the Seat of the Great Mughal”.
Figure 2. Map of Lahore, Pakistan on the Indian border.

Figure 3. Map of the Walled City including the various entrance gates.
Today, Lahore, formerly famous for its gardens, is looked up to as the epitome of beauty and technological strength. In contrast to many other cities in the province, Lahore offers relatively better exposure in terms of social, academic and professional opportunities. Rich in culture, the city still contains much of both British and Muslim influence. The glory of the Mughal architecture and landscaping is still manifest through Shahi Fort, Badshahi Masjid, Androon Shehar (Walled City), the Shalamar Bagh and many other monuments. Similarly, the Western architecture has been well conserved and is quite visible on Mall Road, which is important not only as a major road in Lahore, but also because it contains the headquarters for many businesses as well as the Governor’s House and the Provincial Assembly of Punjab.

Each year, the influx of hundreds of thousands of international tourists, who come from far ends of the planet, add to the grandeur of the city. This cultural exchange is one of the reasons that enables Lahore to keep up with the demands of modern times. While the city continuously expands radially outward, what was originally considered as the Mughal capital, the Androon Shehar (Walled City of Lahore), transforms from within.

In 1585, after making Lahore the third Mughal capital, the emperor Akbar, had the old city walls rebuilt and fortified. The old wood and iron gates were also built around the same time. The city was surrounded by thick walls that formed a parallelogram [Figure 3]. Thirteen colossal doors served as entry points to the city. One of those gates on the east is the Delhi Gate. Inside this gate exists a highly dense, evolving network of communities belonging to different income and social classes.

The Delhi Gate has one of the biggest cloth markets in Asia, and is now a trade hub for many cloth merchants from all over Pakistan. Although the Walled City has a history that is quite old, the currently prevailing social culture in this area is still in its evolutionary phases as it is influenced by the culture of the Mughals, the British and immigrating Indian Muslims. Still, the urban environment of the Walled City has performed remarkably well in terms of fulfilling the needs of a constantly developing city.

After Mughal rule ended in 1857, the area within the wall started to gradually evolve into a collection of hybrid typologies, sometimes morphing as well as being appropriated to adjust to the evolving functions and needs. The evolving urbanisation process picked up pace because of rapid commercialisation. Since this location is easier to approach from the Grand Trunk Road, it became a favourite commercial spot, especially for cloth traders and merchants. As its popularity as a trade area grew, it has become less a residential and more a commercial area.

The thriving local businesses inside the Walled City have always kept it alive over its entire history. Following the end of the British rule in this area, tourism has also become one of its major sources for generating revenue. As the Delhi Gate grew rapidly to be one of the trade hubs for cloth merchants, side businesses supporting merchants' needs also underwent a growth spurt accordingly. Small hotels, sidewalk restaurant-stalls serving delicious, quick and local foods, banks, telecom sales and other utility shops all became essential to the livability of this community. The tight urban fabric is a complex hybrid of contrasting cultural and business practices and social behaviours which overlap and intertwine with one another.

As the British took over the Southeast Asian Indian Subcontinent in 1857, an architectural style completely alien to Mughal architecture was introduced in this area. After the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the idea of maintaining the architectural pattern set by the Mughal dynasty gradually died out, as it got relatively lesser attention compared to the governments' main challenges, such as the livability of the newly formed nation, political stability, the demands of a rapidly changing socio-economic atmosphere and the needs of highly business-oriented trades. As a consequence, there remained no singular idea or definition of the urban pattern, but a collection of overlapping patterns that reflected layers of ancestral and current forms of urban development.

Until a few years ago, it was hard to categorise the architectural form on the Royal Trail - a path about 750 meters in length, connecting the Delhi Gate, adjoining bazars and Mohallas (small residential localities) with the Shahi Fort. Until that time, the streetscape and built fabric was always looked upon as a multi-layered combination of elements, and not as a singular entity. However, the Government of the Punjab took the initiative to start restoration works with the assistance of the World Bank in 2006, and the support of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture as a strategic partner. These works aimed to preserve the Mughal heritage in the area and today the distinction between the Mughal and current architecture is clearly visible.

The rehabilitation works were carried out on the Royal Trail. As a part of these urban and infrastructure works, facades of all buildings that needed renovation (proposed by the architect and agreed upon by the owners) were worked on. All buildings were included on the Royal Trail whether commercial, semi-commercial or residential to develop a visual harmony along the Royal Trail [Figures 4 and 5]. Elements of Mughal architecture were incorporated into most buildings built after the Mughal era. The ones still standing in poor forms since those olden days were revived both architecturally and structurally. A special recipe of the ornamental lime plaster, for example, was developed and applied to them to reproduce the same traditional look.

Figure 4. Hydraulic screw jacks installed to buttress structurally endangered buildings inside Rada Tailian.
Image credit: IKAN Engineering Services
Figure 5. Bamboo scaffolding erected to carry out restoration work on the facade of a residential mansion at Moti Bazar Chowk.
Image credit: IKAN Engineering Services
As part of infrastructure works, building property lines were restored and encroachments demolished to resolve the issues of overcrowding, traffic jams and most importantly, to unveil the grandeur of the architectural form [Figures 6, 7 and 8]. For the first time, new electrical, telecommunication and separated public health systems were buried underground [Figure 9]. Finally, tuff concrete pavers and special brick tiles formed the paving layer of the Royal Trail and its adjoining streets respectively [Figure 10].

Figure 6. Demolition workers removing footsteps outside a commercial market.
Image credit: IKAN Engineering Services
Figure 7. Welders carefully measuring heights and installing wood and angle iron (tharaas) steps outside commercial use properties.
Image credit: IKAN Engineering Services
Figure 8. Dina Nath well opposite Masjid Wazir Khan after restoration. The original brickwork and lime plaster are visible on the dome of the well. A pony wall built in terrazzo concrete wash finish and antique street lamps surrounding the well can also be seen.
Image credit: Waleed Shakeel
Figure 9. Labourers working hard to loosen and remove the compacted earth to replace the existing water supply system near Chowk Purani Kotwali.
Image: IKAN Engineering Services

Figure 10. Tuff paver installation outside of the only women's only institute in the area: Fatima College of Postgraduate Studies for Women, Chowk Choona Mandi. 
Image: IKAN Engineering Services
Figure 11. Special brick tile installation in the newly completed street.
Image: IKAN Engineering Services

The revamped Royal Trail area now bears a more thematic look with buildings seeming to complement each other, yet distinct enough individually due to different colour hues they were painted in. Ephemeral yet strikingly colourful elements abound such as cloths draped and flaunted by the mannequins hung on retractable pipe-rods outside the shops, show-pieces of footwear, stalls of food, street-hawkers selling a world of items, and cart-pullers; transporting consignment boxes through the swarm of people [Figure 1]. All of this adds to the vigour and beauty of the street life inside the Walled City.

A few of the very limited number of remaining house owners still dwelling inside the streets adjacent to the Royal Trail, have either partially converted their abodes to commercial outlets or are waiting for better price offers to sell their properties. The seemingly single-use residential buildings - in maps and planning overlays - are often found to house mixed-use commercial activities. A subtle observation is required to contrast this. Thanks to their inconspicuous locations and the fact that they offer only a limited functional area, these single-use residential buildings normally do not cost a big fortune to rent, and are commonly rented out as godowns or small fast food and beverage shops.

This mixed mode use of buildings highlights the idiosyncratic applications of scale, form and use across the Royal Trail and demonstrates the potential of mixed-use zoning. It also questions the policies of different regulatory authorities involved in separating the uses. Indirectly, it is representative of the prevailing economic doldrums of the local residents, who are forced to rent out a portion of their houses to meet their needs. Further, living with one’s family in a thriving commercial area is in itself another social taboo for the local residents.

Unfortunately, for some time, some small pockets of unobtrusive areas inside the Walled City used to be a haven for the intoxicated. Even during the revamping works it was revealed that more often than not, after business hours, when fewer people frequented the area, locals dealing in drugs and alcohol, sometimes backed by powerful local politicians, populated the area. But now, post-restoration of the Royal Trail, the area dramatically appears like a fairyland as the sun goes down, lit by golden-yellow lights that mimic antique oil lamps. Amidst its quiet, calm ambiance, a leisurely stroll down to the Royal Fort one can easily get one to visualise the splendour of the golden evenings of the Mughal era, especially when one visits or walks past the Royal Bath (Shahi Hammam) [Figure 12] near the entrance of the Delhi Gate, the Masjid Wazir Khan [Figure 13] near Chowk Kotwali and the Begum Shahi Mosque by the Shahi Fort.

Figure 12. Oil lamp shelves (Taaq) stood the test of time. They were made into arches with small clay bricks using lime plaster on the basement level boundary walls of the Shahi Hammam on the Royal Trail side of the building.
Image credit: Waleed Shakeel

Figure 13. Masjid Wazir Khan outer wall after restoration. An amphitheatre for religious events and gatherings outside the Masjid is being built.
Image credit: Waleed Shakeel

It is but natural to contemplate how elephants carrying the kings marches down the same path to the Royal Fort, and how the colossal gates of the Walled City were shut at night to protect the city and the fort. However, the current evening desolation is expected to fade away once restoration has been fully completed and the area is fully opened to tourists. As already stated, this area inside the Delhi Gate is rapidly becoming non-functional as a residential area, but will it be able to function both as a commercial and tourist spot? Is it ready for the next challenge? Time will tell.

Waleed Shakeel is an Architectural Engineer who worked on the Walled City Rehabilitation project (Package – II) with IKAN Engineering, in Lahore, Pakistan. Currently, he is a Master of Engineering student at the University of Alberta, Canada. He can be reached at


Al said...

Excellent Article and work. The photos really tell a story and the oil lamp shelves are particularly interesring.

Unknown said...

I am impressed with the important information provided in this article. Rehabilitation of walled city is a tedius job in difficult conditions. I am happy that lot of effort is made in restoration of original architectural beauty of old Lahore. I'm also thankful to Waleed for sharing this editorial.

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