A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981 along with the nearby Shalamar Gardens (also spelled Shalimar), the Lahore Fort is located roughly 380 kilometres from the Pakistani capital city, Islamabad. Little is known of the city of Lahore prior to the Muslim period. Muslim raids by Arabs began in the 7th century and became more significant in the 12th century under the Turks. Around the 11th century, historical records say a mud fort was built on the site of the Lahore Fort under the reign of the Ghaznavid dynasty, during which Lahore served as the dynasty’s capital. The mud fort, along with most of the city, was destroyed during a Mongol attack in the 12th century.
Over the years, the fort was rebuilt, destroyed, and rebuilt again. In 1524, Lahore was captured by the troops of the Mughal Babur. The Mughal Empire was an immensely successful Muslim empire of Turkic-Mongol origin. Its rulers controlled the entire subcontinent of India from the 16th to the mid-19th century. The present-day form of the Lahore Fort dates from 1575, when the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great occupied the fort, rebuilt with stone, to guard his empire’s northwest frontier.
Succeeding Mughal rulers added palaces and gardens and greatly expanded the citadel. Emperor Jahangir added the Kala Burj pavilion, striking for its European-inspired angels. Jahangir was said to have been attracted to Christian themes, and paintings of the Madonna and Jesus were added to the fort during his reign, alongside images from Persian mythology. His massive Picture Wall decorated with ornate mosaics is definitely a sight to behold.
Shah Jahan was an avid supporter of art and architecture, and his monuments–such as the Taj Mahal in India and the Sheesh Mahal inside the Lahore Fort–are still admired today. Shah Jahan’s beautiful palace, Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors), is located within the Shah Burj quadrangle, made from luxurious marble. Other monuments commissioned by Shah Jahan were the Pearl Mosque (Moti Masjid), for the exclusive use of the women of the royal household, and the Diwan-i-Aam (Hall of Public Audience), where the emperor would appear for his daily public appearance.
The Royal Kitchen, located behind the main gate of the fort, was constructed also during the reign of Shah Jahan. Historians and architects say the structure seen today is only the uppermost storey of the building added during British occupation, with the original kitchens buried below. The Walled City of Lahore Authority says it will be turned into a night cafe.
Later additions to the Lahore Fort, such as the Naulakha Pavilion, came from the Sikh era. Its name (“nine lakh“, 900,000) might have referred either to the price to build it, or the number of semi-precious stones that adorn its walls.
Access to the fort is through its western side through the colossal Alamgiri Gate, built by Aurangzeb in 1674 as a private entrance to the royal quarters, wide enough for several elephants to pass through.
Travellers may also be interested to visit the Shalamar Gardens, also built by Shah Jahan. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the garden complex covers sixteen hectares and designed as an earthly utopia.
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