The WCLA is an authority to oversee the conservation, rehabilitation and maintenance of the Walled City of Lahore

Restoration work is underway at Lahore Fort’s Picture Wall. — Photos: Courtesy of WCLA
Restoration work is underway at Lahore Fort’s Picture Wall. — Photos: Courtesy of WCLA


eritage is often perceived as the protection and preservation of past. It helps us examine our history and traditions, and enables us to develop awareness about ourselves. Realising that the Departments of Archaeology and Museums, both at federal and provincial levels, were unable to carry out the core tasks with respect to the conservation, rehabilitation and maintenance of built heritage, the government created the Walled City of Lahore Authority in 2012.

The semi-government organisation is headquartered in Lahore. It is imperative here to briefly go over the history of the Walled City.

Spanning over more than a thousand years of living history, the Walled City is considered the original Lahore. Counted among the oldest human settlements, it has monuments, havelis and bazaars. Its cultural traditions make it a living heritage museum.

It is claimed to have been the birthplace of Prince Loh; also identified as Brahminabad; invaded by Subuktagin; captured by Shahabuddin Ghauri; ransacked by Mongols; and remained with Khilji, Tughluq and Lodhi dynasties. Then came the golden era when this city became one of the capitals of the Mughal Empire. Emperor Akbar re-built the mud fort of Ghaznavid period with burnt bricks and added 13 gates to the city connected to a 30-foot high fortified wall.

It was here that the Mughals built some of their giant mosques including the Mariam Zamani Mosque, the Wazir Khan Mosque, the Taxali Mosque and the Badshahi Masjid besides several other structures. After Maharaja Ranjeet Singh gained power, in 1801, the Sikhs added more buildings, havelis and religious structures. Some of the famous havelis of Sikh era intact. These include Haveli Dhyan Singh, Haveli Nau Nehal Singh, Haveli Barood Khana and Haveli Jamadar Khushhal Singh.

The pavilion, or Baradari of Hazoori Bagh, was also built by Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. It celebrated the capture of Kohinoor diamond.

Later, the British took over Lahore and demolished the high walls of the city. They also pulled down some of the gorgeous gates, added the Circular Road and a garden around the city.

In the early 1900s, the British rebuilt the 13 gates in a different architectural style. These are the gates we see today. Today, we see only six of them. Out of these, the only Mughal-era gate is the Roshnai Darwaza, next to the Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, opposite the Fort.

After 1947, countless alterations and additions endangered the magnificence of the city. The utmost threat to the city’s heritage was the extent of continuous commercialisation: heritage buildings and monuments were falling apart and the locals were moving out. Many havelis and monuments were deserted.

Usman Ki Baithak was set up inside Gali Surjan Singh as a sitting area for tourists.
Usman Ki Baithak was set up inside Gali Surjan Singh as a sitting area for tourists. 

The heritage lovers feared that the Walled City would entirely lose its identity. A major conservation effort was needed. It was for this purpose that the Punjab government established the WCLA.

The WCLA is headed by Kamran Lashari, a former civil servant who has also previously served as the Lahore deputy commissioner, the Parks and Horticulture Authority chairman, the president of Lahore Gymkhana and chairman of Alhamra Arts Council.

The Royal Trail

Lashari’s vision of the Walled City as a tourist attraction is reflected in the WCLA projects. To begin with, the Royal Trail, or Shahi Guzargah, was selected as a pilot project. The Royal Trail from Delhi Gate to Masti Gate is a 1.6-kilometre route, used by the Mughals reaching Lahore from Delhi. This route has many a landmark, including the Shahi Hammam, the Wazir Khan Mosque, Rang Mahal and Lahore Fort.

The restoration of the Royal Trail had two main components: infrastructure development and façade improvement. During work on the project, about 1,200 properties were restored; electricity wires and transformers were taken underground; new sewerage pipes were laid and open drains were covered.

The first phase of the project, from Delhi Gate to Chowk Kotwali, was completed in 2015 and the second, from Chowk Kotwali to Masti Gate, in 2018. Rs 500 million was spent in the first phase and Rs 890 million in the second.

Work is currently in progress on the fourth phase (from Chowk Kotwali to Sonehri Mosque). The Rs 315 million project is expected to be completed this year.

Gali Surjan Singh

Gali Surjan Singh is the main boulevard that opens at the Delhi Gate. It comprises a series of housing establishments as well as small storefronts having historic and architectural value. It was named after Hakim Surjan Singh, a 19th Century physician, who lived on the street. In 2012, the street was restored by the WCLA and the Aga Khan Culture Service-Pakistan, with funding from the German embassy.

Electricity network was taken underground, sewerage and storm-water pipes were separated and telecommunication services and gas supply improved.

Usman Ki Baithak was set up inside Gali Surjan Singh as a sitting area for tourists. In 2021, the street was decorated with plants and flowers by Akhuwat Foundation and the WCLA.

Shahi Hammam

The WCLA, in partnership with AKTC-AKCSP, carried out the restoration of the Shahi Hammam, using a grant from the Royal Norwegian Embassy. The conversation work started in 2014 and was completed in 2015.

The Hammam, built in 1634 during the reign of Shahjehan, is a public bath constructed in the tradition of Persian and Turkish bathing establishments. It’s a single-storey structure over an area of approximately 1,050 square metres.

The Hammam has 21 rooms that offer all the facilities found in a public bath. An additional room is set at an angle facing Makkah. It was used for offering prayers.

It was opened to the public as a museum site in 2016 and continues to attract local and international visitors. The project is the recipient of the Award of Merit as part of the UNESCO’s Asia Pacific Awards for cultural heritage conservation.

Lahore Fort and beyond

The conservation and restoration work at the Lahore Fort, Badshahi Masjid, Wazir Khan Mosque Complex, Fort Road Food Street, Bhati Gate and some other sites is under way.

The WCLA has also launched guided tours of the Walled City that have become quite popular.

The government recently transferred seven monuments - Shalamar Gardens, Jehangir’s tomb, Nur Jehan’s tomb, Asif Jah’s tomb, Akbar Serai and Qutbuddin Aibak’s tomb, to the WCLA.

The transfer has received a backlash from the civil society and some other quarters, though.

The WCLA has also extended its domain to include the shrines of famous Sufi adepts and historical monuments across the province.

Mazhar Abbas has a PhD in history from Shanghai University. He is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad, and a research fellow at PIDE, Islamabad. He can be contacted at mazharabbasgondal87@gmail.com

Muhammad Yasin Shafique is pursuing an MPhil in history at GCU, Faisalabad