The Lahore Fort, locally known as Shahi Qila, is located in the northwestern corner of Lahore’s Walled City. The majestic edifice is the result of many centuries’ work. According to the Pakistani historian Wali Ullah Khan, the earliest reference to the Fort comes in the history of Lahur (Lahore) compiled by Al-Biruni, which refers to a fort constructed in the early 11th century. Munshi Sujan Rae Bhandar, author of the Khulasa-tut-Tawarikh records that Malik Ayaz, a lieutenant of Sultan Mahmud, built a masonry fort at Lahore and inhabited the city. It is generally believed that present Lahore Fort is the same fort, which was damaged by the Mongols in 1241 and again in 1398 by a detachment of Timur’s army, then rebuilt in 1421 by Sayyid, son of Khizr Khan.
The Fort was extensively refurbished, extended and upgraded during the Mughal era. This is why it is rightly attributed as one of the gems of the Mughal civilization. Emperor Jalal ud Din Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb all added to it. During the period of Sikh occupation, Ranjit Singh added several pavilions on the upper ramparts. Some modifications to the Fort were made during the British period beginning in 1846 for housing facilities for colonial functions. Those modifications have been reverted and efforts made to bring the Fort back in its pre 1846 appearance.
Minar-e-Pakistan, 60 meters tall and a relatively new landmark in Lahore is on the one side of the Fort and the Badshahi (Imperial) Mosque and deMontmorency – oldest Dental Collage in Pakistan — are across the courtyard from Alamgir Gate of the Fort. History and heritage are kept alive in the Lahore Fort, a protected national monument on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites, in the form of Masti Gate, Diwan-i-Am, Moti Masjid, Lal Burg, Naulakha Pavilion and Shish Mahal. The Fort contains marble palaces decorated with mosaics and gilt. The elegance of the splendid monument is matchless.
The massive fortification walls, built by Emperor Akbar in the 1560s, tower over the older part of Lahore. The huge rectangle they define, 380 by 330 meters (1,250 by 1,080 feet), is filled with buildings from a variety of periods. The main gates are located alongside the centre of the western and eastern walls. A tour of the Fort in one go is like eating an elephant in one gulp, so it merits to be seen slowly like a child looks at a huge mural.
Enter the Fort through Alamgiri Gate and you find yourself in a Maktab Khana (Clerks’ House). It is a small cloistered court surrounded by arcades in which clerks use to sit, recording the names of visitors. The inscription outside tells that King Jahangir built Maktab Khana in 1618. Another gateway is the Masti gate – a corruption of Masjid Gate – named after the mosque, which still stands outside the Gate. Built in 1566, the Gate only assumed its present name after the construction of the nearby Mosque in 1641 by Empress Maryam Zamani, mother of King Jahangir.
Inside, the Diwan-e-Am (Hall of Public Audience) is an open pavilion with 40 pillars built in 1631-32 by Emperor Shah Jahan, in order to shelter his subjects when they appeared before him. Originally, Akbar had built the marble pavilion and red sandstone balcony that is at the back of the Diwan-e-Am. Here the emperor appeared daily before the public who, in his days, used to gather under a canvas canopy. The serpentine sandstone brackets are typical of Akbar’s commissions, with the depiction of animals showing Hindu influence. His two-stored Diwan-e-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), built in 1566, is behind the balcony and is reached by stairs on the right. The Khwabgah-e-Jahangir (Jahangir’s Room of Dreams) is the main building running the length of the north side of Jahangir’s Quadrangle and is typical of Jahangir’s period in its austerity. It is now a museum, containing some excellent illustrated manuscripts (including the Akbar Nama – the daily chronicle of Akbar’s reign), some beautiful calligraphy, good miniature paintings and a collection of Mughal coins.
Moti Masjid was built in the Shah Jahan era about 1645 A.D., and is one of the of three Moti (Pearl) Mosques built in the Mughal period, the others being the one at Agra Fort and another at Delhi built by Aurangzeb. The Moti Masjid was used as a treasury during the Sikh period.
The Lal Burj, an octagonal tower, was constructed in 1617-31. Intended as a summer pavilion, it is decorated on the outside with mosaic and filigree while the interior is filled with paintings from the Sikh period. The lower two stories were built during Jahangir and Shah Jahan’s reign, while the upper story is a Sikh addition.
The Bungla, popularly called the Naulakha pavilion – edifice, which was built at the cost of nine lakhs (900,000 was a lot of money then), is a unique marble pavilion with a curved roof. It was constructed during Shah Jahan’s reign in 1631-32 A.D. for the Empress when she resided at Lahore. It is often considered one of the finest buildings in Pakistan. The Shish Mahal is a multi-storied structure north of the Bungla. It is also part of the royal residence constructed by Shah Jahan in 1631-1632. The mirror work has been renovated lately.
No ordinary coldness of phrasing can express the surprise and delight with which one makes acquaintance while seeing the built heritage and sensing history and accumulated memories spread all around the Fort. The first impact that the Fort gives is an emotional one. It also has architectural and documentary values. The perspective of the Fort gives the visitors a wonderful sense of being there. In fact, that is my recommendation: be there.