Lahore is the second largest city in Pakistan, and the provincial capital of Punjab in the north-east. It lies on the Indus river plains and is adjacent to the River Ravi which touches by. It is regarded as the cultural capital of the country, with history, art, architecture, culture and cuisine spanning back centuries. Its current population estimate stands at about 11 million people.
Where Lahore got its Name
It is not known for sure where Lahore gets its name from but theories abound. From among the most popular theories, one suggests that “Lahore” is a corrupted rendition of the word “Ravawar” which is the simplified form of “Iravatyawar” and that “Iravatyawar” is a name possibly derived from Iravati River, which is the present day River Ravi. Another popular theory stems from a Hindu legend which states that Lahore was founded by the son of Sita and Rama, Prince Lava. This same theory also purports that the neighboring city of Kasur in Punjab was founded by Prince Lava’s brother, Prince Kusha.
A Brief History of the City
The City of Lahore has seen many kings from various dynasties that ruled over it. From 1163 to 1186, it served as the capital of the Ghaznavid dynasty. In 1241, the Mongol army sacked it. Lahore continued to be repeatedly attacked by the Mongols until 1398, when the Timur, a Turkic conqueror, gained control over it. The Mughals arrived in the historio-scape in 1524, when Babur’s army captured the city. Lahore flourished under the Mughals, and it is often referred to as the “Golden Age of Lahore”. This became the royal seat of the Mughals as they went on to rule the rest of the Subcontinent.
Following the last of the Mughal emperors, Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, Nadir Shah captured Lahore for a time in the 1750s when it became an outpost for the Iranian Empire. However, soon, the Sikhs came into power and Lahore once again flourished heavily under the Sikh ruler, Ranjit Singh, from 1799 to 1839. Lahore was famously called the “City of Gardens” during Ranjit Singh’s time of reign. The British took over in 1849, and in 1947 Lahore fell into Pakistan upon the Partition.
Sites and Places to Visit
The city of Lahore boasts architecture from the Mughal era, Sikh rule, as well as the British Raj. At the core centre, is the Old City of Lahore, which is also known as the Walled City of Lahore. Sprawling outwards from it, is Lahore that expanded, especially during modern times.
Walled City of Lahore, and Gali Surjan Singh
During Emperor Akbar’s rule up until the 18th century, Lahore was given its most decisive character. The Mughals adorned the city with multiple monuments, and many more came in the time after the Mughals too. The city contains an amalgam of many time periods congealed into the beautiful architectural and artworks today. The urban Lahore under the Mughals was divided into quarters separated by passegeways called “guzars”. During Akbar’s time, 9 out of the 26 guzars were located within the Walled City, whereas the remaining were located outside it in the suburbs. The city and its suburbs kept growing rapidly under Emperor Jehangir as well. Empress Nur Jahan, Jehangir’s wife, had a deep love for gardens and so oversaw the construction of many garden residences, interwoven with the urban sprawl in Lahore. Over time, the properties in the Walled City were made into smaller spaces to accommodate the many more people the city now had. Inhabitants belonging to various castes and religions co-existed therein.
The Gali Surjan Singh is a street within Walled City of Lahore, which has recently been renovated and historically preserved as part of a project effort by economists from World Bank and the people at Aga Khan Trust for Culture. This street is characteristic of the streets within Walled City – narrow alleyways, dense construction, and a zig zag of light and human flow. Gali Surjan Singh was named after a 19th century physician, Hakim Surjan Singh, who used to live on this street. The restored street preserved its “tharas” – the platforms outside homes – where people work, sit, have tea, talk and laugh together, and children play, all at the same time.
Another distinctive feature of the architecture in Walled City is the protruded stone window, called a “Jharoka”. It protrudes from the front facade of the building, situated on the floors above the ground floor, supported by pillars, very intricately carved and embellished with a thousand details. It is usually covered with a “jaali” or net like meshwork to let in light but not too much heat, and to peep down at the passersby in the street below.
The Lahore Fort, or the Royal Fort, was the citadel of the Walled City of Lahore. The Fort harbors 21 monuments within itself, such as the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) and the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque). This fort was almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century when the Mughals were at their peak. It was declared to be a World Heritage Site in 1981.
The fort is said to have been a mud brick structure in the 11th century. The present day fort can be attributed to Emperor Akbar who, in 1566, ordered to have it built and also incorporated many syncretic architectural motifs, amalgamating Hindu and Muslim symbols and styles. Emperor Shah Jahan added white marble and floral patterns to the ornamentations at the fort, whereas Aurangzeb, the last of the Mughal Emperors, saw to the completion of its Alamgiri gate, which overlooks the Badshahi Mosque today.
The Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) was built by Shah Jehan in 1631-32, and is also known as the “jewel in the Fort’s crown”. This white marble pavilion is beautifully decorated with colorful and highly polished stones using the technique known as pietra dura, and a thousand small mirrors. This hall was exclusively used by the royal family and their close ones only.
The Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) is from the 17th century as well. It was built by Emperor Jehangir, and is made out of white marble, hence its name “Moti” (pearl). After the Mughals, this mosque was converted into a Moti Mandir (A Pearl Temple) by Sikhs, and later used as a treasury house by Ranjit Singh until his demise.
The Badshahi Mosque was made in 1671-73 under the rule of Emperor Aurangzeb. It is characteristic of Mughal architecture with its exterior made of red sandstone with carvings, and white marble inlay. The entrance to the mosque faces the Alamgiri gate. After the Mughals, this mosque was used as a garrison by the Sikhs and later by the British. Today, it is one of Pakistan’s most iconic sites.
Wazir Khan Mosque
The construction of the Wazir Khan Mosque, as well as the Shahi Hamaam baths adjacent to it, was commissioned by Emperor Shah Jehan, and it took seven years to complete, from 1634 to 1641. This mosque is known as the most intricately decorated of all mosques that the Mughals built. Most notable is the faience work called kashi kari found adorning the walls and ceilings of this mosque, as well as the frescoes found in its interior.
The Shahi Hamaam (Royal Bath), also known as the Wazir Khan Hamaam, is a Persian style bath which was built in 1635 by a physician at the Mughal court, Ilam-ud-din Ansari, who was also known as Wazir Khan. It was built as an endowment to the mosque.
Samadhi of Ranjit Singh
The Samadhi of Ranjit Singh is a shrine built to Ranjit Singh after his demise in 1839, and also holds his funerary urns. It is located adjacent to the Lahore Fort and the Badshahi mosque. The building amalgamates Hindu, Sikh and Islamic architectural styles. It has cupolas and gilded fluted domes. The front of the doorways is decorated with images of Hindu gods and goddesses – Devi, Brahma, and Ganesh – carved from red sandstone. The ceiling has stained glass mosaic work, and the dome is decorated with serpentine designs – a Hindu motif incorporated by the Hindu artisans that worked on it.
Gurdwara Dera Sahib
The Gurdwara Dera Sahib is a Sikh temple which was built to commemorate the spot where Guru Arjan Dev, the 5th Guru of Sikhism, was martyred in 1606. Kharak Singh, the second Maharaja of the Sikh empire, oversaw construction of the temple begin, but it was his youngest son, Duleep Singh, who saw it come to completion in 1848.
Janam Asthan Guru Ram Das
The Gurdwara Janam Asthan Guru Ram Das is a gurdwara (place of worship for Sikhs) built at the site believed to be the birthplace and early home of the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ram Das. It is situated close to the Lahore Fort and on the Shahi Guzargah (Royal Passage), where the Emperors would pass through. The early childhood home of the guru existed till the time of Ranjit Singh. It is said that Ranjit Singh, during the celebrations of the birth of his son, Kharak Singh, was requested to build a shrine there, to which he agreed.
Haveli of Nau Nihal Singh
Haveli Nau Nihal Singh was built some time around 1830 or 1840. It was built as a residence by Ranjit Singh for his grandson, Nau Nihal Singh. Since the British, the haveli has been used as a high school for girls – the Victoria Girls’ High School.
The haveli is rectangular in shape and its entrance is to its west. The facade has two portions: one with the entrance is heavily decorated with frescoes, whereas the other is punctured with a lot of windows. A jharoka balcony with five arches and topped with a half, bulbous dome protrudes out from the floor level above the ground. This balcony was the Jharoka-e-Darshan from which the SIkh emperor would look out at the people gathered below. The jharoka is decorated with images of front-facing fish which reflect influences from East Asian artistic styles, parrots, and winged humans. There are two smaller Jharokas on each side of the Jharoka-e-Darshan.
There are a total of four stories and a basement in the building. The room on the fourth floor is called Rang Mahal (Palace of Colors). The ceilings of the rest of the rooms are built at a higher height than usual – higher ceilings in that climate helped keep the inside of the room cooler than the searingly hot temperatures outside during the summers. The ceilings are made out of carved wood with mirrors and colored glass inlay work. There is also a central inner courtyard in the building, with two stories rising up from it.
The city of Lahore is a very old city, dating as far back as the 12th century, maybe even more. What is now present day Lahore consists of the Old Walled City of Lahore at its core and the suburbs that sprawled out from this core, over centuries. However, a walk through the Old Walled City of Lahore, even today, can take you right back in time. The historical sites have stories from eons ago to tell – stories that interweave Mughal, Hindu, and Sikh lives and artistic styles into one another. The Lahore Fort, a citadel of sorts of the Old City, has the mesmerizingly beautiful Sheesh Mahal and Moti Masjid in it. The Badshahi Masjid, Samadhi of Ranjit Singh, and Janam Asthan Guru Ram Das are located near to the fort as well. Along the rest of the parameter are other notable historical sites, such as the Wazir Khan Mosque, Gurdwara Dera Sahib, and the Haveli of Nau Nihal Singh, which all too are must visits if you decide to go visit the Old Walled City of Lahore!