Conservation problems

February 23, 2020

Cities, like languages, have always changed to meet the demands of changing times. Being the hub of commercial and cultural activities, Lahore has welcomed new ideas brought in by the immigrating peoples to be assimilated in the mainstream. The induction has been a slow but continuous process. New discoveries and big events at times accelerated the change.

Cities, like languages, have always changed to meet the demands of changing times. Being the hub of commercial and cultural activities, Lahore has welcomed new ideas brought in by the immigrating peoples to be assimilated in the mainstream. The induction has been a slow but continuous process. New discoveries and big events at times accelerated the change.

Lahore was always located on the left bank of Iravati i.e. Ravi, smallest of the five rivers of the Punjab. Built over a man-made mound, for strategic and climatic reasons, as most invaders came from the north as did the cool breeze. It also made it safe from floods and helped the sewerage system which has a tradition dating back to the Indus Valley days. Though it was rebuilt by Mahmud Ghaznavi over a thousand years ago, the Arcuate style of construction comprising of arches, domes and vaults took quite some time to gain popularity as the local artisans/masons were not conversant with it, and the invaders were mostly soldiers. The only monument surviving from this period is the tomb of Malik Ayaz, Mahmud’s lieutenant, located near Rang Mahal.

Till the coming of Mughals, Lahore had not been an important city. Yet, every invader from the northwest captured it, got supplies and marched towards Delhi. For this reason Sher Shah Suri, wanted it to be razed to the ground. However, he himself died in a gun-powder blast as mentioned earlier. Lahore grew into its full blown glory during Akbar’s long sojourn here during the years 1584-98. The city was enlarged, a new wall in fire-burnt bricks enclosed it, thirteen gates provided access to it. A moat filled with water from the river further strengthened its defences. Gardens and palaces especially in the Naulakha area, represented a city of the elite. Other areas were more for the common people. The royal family brought in imperial style as reflected in the Fort, Jahangir’s Tomb, Shalamar Gardens and the Badshahi Mosque. The Punjab was reflected in Wazir Khan’s Mosque and the numerous tombs in the necropolis of Baghbanpura as Multani and Persian overtones. Shaikh Musa Ahangar’s tomb situated on McLeod Road is the earliest of monuments in Lahore to have survived in its original shape.

Timber has been used traditionally in Lahore. Flat roofs, balconies running along the entire length of the facade were all wooden. Terra-cotta slabs with perforations helped flow of air and the view below. Most houses were small and multi-storied. Large havelis punctuated tightly-knit texture of settlements of the same locality. Commercial activity was limited to the main streets while specialized markets were located in different areas. The densely populated mohallahs had only a few shops for the convenience of the populace. This was an era of the Walled city concept.

The city character was threatened during the early Sikh period, when the population dwindled due to uncertainty and security concerns. The settlements outside the city walls suffered the most. Ranjit Singh’s period was more cosmopolitan with the French mercenaries, some Italians and a majority of Muslims in the offices and Persian as the court language. But the monuments built during the Mughal times suffered because of misuse and stripping of the decorative stone claddings. It was also because stone was not available in this region. Nurjahan’s and Asif Jah’s tombs were to suffer the most. The civil war of the Sikhs caused considerable damage to the minarets of the Badshahi mosque.

Taking over of the city by the British was peaceful, but their soldiers clad in red did engrave their names on the marble pillars behind the Diwaan-e-aam, which itself was converted into a hospital. Many chambers were white-washed, the wall pictures were thus irreversibly damaged. The Fort itself served as the secretariat till 1934 when it was shifted to the present Laat Sahib ka Dafter.

The biggest change in the city character came about when the city expanded outside the redundant defensive walls. Major roads were initiated in front of the city gates e.g. in front of Bhaati. The Mall started where “Zero” mile was marked; (later re-Christened as Lower Mall. The present-day Mall was originally Lawrence Road). The cantonment was shifted to Mian Mir because Badaami Bagh proved too unhealthy for the soldiers admitted to the hospital in the Fort (that was years before Lord Mayo was assassinated in Andaman Islands by Shar-e-Ali Afridi).

The city was now ready to welcome the automobile. It was rated as the most modern and cleanest city in the region. Cities like Bombay, Madras and Calcutta were fast deteriorating by then. Railways too provided a big number of jobs, more commerce and a quicker flow of people from far-flung areas. Changes in dialects, social habits and customs were immense. The largest locomotive in the Sub-continent brought in the evermore use of steel in architecture too. Iron girders, railings, gates and corrugated tin sheets in the railway housings became a common sight. The introduction of photography helped spread news and new views.

But, Moghul and Nanakshahi bricks continued being used till the end of nineteenth century. The Exhibition Hall (that later came to be called Tollinton Market), the old Free-Masons’ Hall (which was later converted into Lady MacLagen Girls High School, after the devastating earthquake of April 5, 1904), the Government College Gymnasium, the Lawrence and Montgomery Halls, DIG’s office and Joan McDonald School were all built in small bricks.

Cement, and re-inforced concrete came to be used much later. British brick measuring 9x4.5x3 inches suddenly became standard starting from 1880s. Exposed, nicely grouted supplemented by terra-cotta decorations and projections were a hall-mark of Jubilee buildings i.e. Lahore Museum, Mayo School and Municipal Corporation; and later the University of the Punjab and Aitcheson College.

Lahore also became a hub of newspapers and publishing houses and educational institutions. Prosperity was brought by education and the Great War (as WWI was called, because they had not expected another one). People wanted to enjoy their money. The problems faced today started hatching during 1920s and ’30s. Wider roads, a sewerage following topographical flow, natural waste disposal absorbed most of the pressure albeit temporarily.

On the political and communal front people started living in separate localities. Arya Samaj movement too paved way for eventual partition. The non-Muslims left behind a big number of spacious properties that sufficed for the large number of refugees. But these buildings, originally meant for the elite, were split and shared by many families. The exteriors and interiors were divided. There was a shortage of hard cash and the properties suffered from neglect and want of repairs. This was a blessing in disguise as the buildings were not tampered with.

Modern age brought mechanized farming that left the village-folk with lesser work opportunities. Those who used to deliver vegetables and milk now came to work as skilled or unskilled labour. Growth of slums around posh localities was an inevitable outcome. In the Walled City big havelis and smaller houses catered to the needs of each other. Eateries and small shops developed around the slums came to be frequented by anti-social elements making a survey for potential targets.

The single biggest neglect was decentralization. What was once called “Donald Town” over the century had become the nucleus of all activities, private and public. The Secretariat, the lower courts, the chief court, the General Post Office, the Metropolitan Municipal Office, the educational institutions, the Accountant General’s Office, the Income-Tax Offices, the Customs Office, the IG Police’s office, Mayo Hospital and many more monuments are located here. All banks have their zonal offices in the Bank Square. The biggest bazaar of the Punjab and beyond, Anarkali, has reached choking point. Rights of the citizens have been usurped by encroachments-both permanent and moveable. The sight has become ungainly because everybody wants to shout loud through banners and signboards. Nearly everybody still has to come to the down-town quite frequently for small matters that should and could be settled using telephone or e-mail.

This has only aggravated the transport and time management problems because of the growth of various housing societies on far-flung agricultural lands. Lahore Omnibus was one relief provided as early as 1945. After partition, it became a very efficient service. On September 2, 1951 a fleet of six double-deckers pulled up before the Assembly Chambers for a pre-view. For the next twenty five years most of the buses plying here were the Leyland. This transport was comparable to the best ones anywhere in the world, including London and Rome. Then started the story of its sad demise, bringing in police owned wagons then the QingQis, and culminatng in Signal free corridors and Metro Bus and Orange Line Train tragedies.

This dispatch is dedicated to writer Maniza Naqvi

Free Art classes @

Boards and benches provided. Bring your own lunch.

Guest of the week: Bayan Hulya Noack

62 Chinar courts, 13 km Raiwind road. Adda Plot.


Last Wednesday of the month LCS meeting. February 26

Tollinton Market 3 pm ample parking. You can also park at NCA. General public welcome.

Reference for late Haji Fazal Karim, fifth generation merchant of Tollinton.

Lahore Conservation Society elections for board of governors.

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