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The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture What is This? Provides in-depth historical and cultural information on over a thousand years of Islamic art and architecture


City in Pakistan sited at the crossing of the Ravi River and the Grand Trunk Road from Afghanistan to Bengal. Although Lahore is said to have ancient origins, its art-historical significance begins c. 1000. Lahore has had several periods of extraordinary architectural development under Mughal, Sikh, British and Pakistani rule. For all but a few decades of the Mughal and Sikh periods, when it was the primary capital city, Lahore has been the provincial capital of the Punjab. Like other Mughal capitals (such as Agra and Delhi), the citadel stood on a high riverbank, surrounded by a walled city of commercial and residential neighborhoods, and extensive suburbs containing industrial areas, shrines, cemeteries and gardens: it was during the Mughal period that Lahore acquired its special identity as the “city of gardens,” which persists to the present day.

Few structures survive from the pre-Mughal era in Lahore. Significant buildings include the early 16th-century shrine of Musa Ahangar—a small, square brick tomb with the simple dome and glazed tilework common to Sultanate architecture of the Punjab—which lies outside the city walls; the Niwin or “Low” Mosque just inside the walled city (so-named because the mosque courtyard lies almost 10 m below street level); and the reconstructed shrine of Uthman ibn ῾Ali Hujwiri, a medieval Sufi saint better known to Muslim pilgrims around the world as Data Ganj Bakhsh.

Possibly the earliest Mughal site is the garden and pavilion (c. 1530) of Kamran, half-brother of the emperor Humayun (see Mughal, §II, B), which stood on the right bank of the Ravi. Both garden and pavilion were extensively reconstructed in the 17th century, after which they were battered by flooding and eventually cut off by a river meander; they were radically reconstructed by the government of Punjab in 1990.

A more enduring Mughal monument is Lahore Fort, a roughly square enclosure standing high above the Ravi floodplain. It was first improved by Akbar (r. 1556–1605; see Mughal, §II, C), who rebuilt the fort as well as the outer walls and gateway of the city. The fort's interior spaces and structures were elaborated under Akbar's successor Jahangir (r. 1605–27; see Mughal, §II, D). His contributions include the tile-decorated “picture wall” with its numerous scenes of animals and angels. Jahangir's mother, Miryam Zamani, built the oldest surviving Mughal mosque in Lahore just outside the eastern gate of the fort, and decorated it with fresco painted walls. However, it was Jahangir's wife, Nur Jahan, and her family who began systematically to link projects in the fortress with those in the walled city and suburbs: her father, I῾timad al-Dawla, and brother Asaf Khan, built a large compound (havelī) and garden just east of the Miryam Zamani mosque. Jahangir was buried in a tomb faced with red sandstone and inlaid with marble set in a garden across the river from the fort in an area known as Shahdara. Its square garden enclosure, horizontal building form, and corner minarets bear comparison with the tomb of I῾timad al-Dawla in Agra (see Agra, §II, B). Nur Jahan and her brother Asaf Khan were also buried in square tomb-garden enclosures in Shahdara, creating a royal funerary landscape comparable with those around the tombs of Akbar and Humayun (see Sikandra and Delhi, §III, D).

The next Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (r. 1628–58; see Mughal, §II, E), together with his female relatives and nobles, undertook the most lasting transformations of Lahore. Within the fort, Shah Jahan commissioned courtyards and pavilions of white marble, culminating in the magnificent Shish Mahal court, which represents one of the most sophisticated water and architectural complexes in Lahore. This two-story hall—decorated throughout with mirrors, floral pietra dura decoration and fresco painting—stands at the end of a small, paved marble courtyard, in the center of which lies a large, shallow circular water basin set within a square pool with a fountain near each corner. The entire courtyard is paved with yellow, black and gray marble. The other major project of this period was a terraced garden, later known as Shalimar Bagh, which was built along a river terrace in the northeastern suburbs of the city. Inspired by the terraced gardens and water cascades of Kashmir (see Srinagar) and Central Asia, this huge garden required both canal and well water to supply its broad channels, pools and hundreds of fountains. In addition to its monumental scale and waterworks, Shalimar Bagh transformed the spatial fabric of Lahore, attracting roadways and residential development into the area. While promoting such imperial projects, the nobility of the time also engaged in the active patronage of mosques, gardens, tombs, shrines and havelīs.

The bloody struggle for power between Shah Jahan's sons Awrangzib (r. 1658–1707; see Mughal, §II, F) and Dara Shikoh had dramatic implications for Lahore. The losing prince, Dara Shikoh, had been a vigorous, poetic and mystical leader in Lahore. He acquired Asaf Khan's havelī near the walled city, supported the construction of gardens and pavilions in the suburbs, built one of the few tomb-gardens constructed for a saint (his pīr, Mulla Shah), and would have undoubtedly made further contributions to the development of Lahore. Although his more orthodox brother Awrangzib cared little for Lahore, he chose it as the site for his Badshahi Mosque, a structure of extraordinary scale and spatial clarity (see fig.; see also Mosque).

With the disintegration of the Mughal empire in the 18th century, Lahore and its hinterland suffered frequent conquests. Although some noteworthy construction continued, the overall result was decline until the Sikh leader Ranjit Singh (d. 1839) gained control of the Punjab in 1818. Although he has been criticized for stripping the marble from many sites in Lahore, Ranjit Singh also ordered the reconstruction of Mughal sites in the fort and suburbs, as well as commissioning buildings in a uniquely Sikh style, featuring foliated domes and decorative plasterwork. The Sikhs continued the tradition of garden construction in Lahore, and added new building types such as temples (gurdwārās) and funerary structures (samādhs), the grandest of which is Ranjit Singh's samādh near the fort. During the Sikh period an increasing number of European travellers and entrepreneurs in Lahore began to produce paintings for local patrons and prints for European markets.

When Sikh rule gave way to British control in 1849, a new set of forces began to unfold. Formal documentation and conservation projects were initiated by the provincial and imperial governments. The Punjab Historical and Agro-Horticultural Societies were created to understand and conserve a landscape rapidly being transformed by colonial railways, canals, factories, roads and agricultural development. In addition to these public works, the British constructed residential, bureaucratic, religious and military buildings in both colonial and Indo-Saracenic styles. Modern botanical and recreational parks were created, occasionally to disguise and beautify the sites of Mughal brick kilns. Although the colonial architecture of Lahore is rapidly deteriorating, the major examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture—the Punjab High Court, the General Post Office, Aitchison College, Lahore Museum and Punjab University Old Campus—are among the finest in the subcontinent, and are generally well preserved.

The diffusion of Western architectural influence, focused on concrete, glass and steel, continued to escalate throughout the 20th century. However, in the 1980s and 1990s there was an energetic revival of interest in historical arts, craft techniques and architectural forms, led by non-governmental organizations of architects such as the Anjuman Mimaran, universities, government archaeologists and museums. Use of traditional materials and forms, such as the battered brick walls of the Al Hamra Arts Complex by Nayyar Ali Dada, marked the early stages of this revival. The 1990s witnessed further elaboration of historical forms, such as the garden concepts of the Doon School outside Lahore designed by Kamil Khan Mumtaz, and historical building materials and details, for example in the use of brickwork in residential projects by Sajjad Kausar. Collaborative projects sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and the World Bank contributed to the documentation of Mughal gardens and the conservation of the walled city. Museums include the Lahore Museum with its collection of Gandharan, Mughal and Punjabi art, and the Faqir Khana Museum in the old city.


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  • S. Quraeshi: Lahore: The City Within (Singapore, 1988)
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  • J. L. Wescoat jr, M. Brand and N. Mir: “Gardens, Roads and Legendary Tunnels: The Underground Memory of Mughal Lahore,” J. Hist. Geog., xvii (1991), pp. 1–17
  • M. Brand: “The Shahdara Gardens of Lahore,” Mughal Gardens: Sources, Places, Representations, and Prospects, ed. J. L.Wescoat and J. Wolschke-Bulmahn, Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture, xvi (Washington, 1996), pp. 188–211
  • A. von Gladiss: “Aspekte des indoislamischen Metallhandwerks: Lahore-Kashmir-Bidar,” Rosenduft und Säbelglanz: Islamische Kunst und Kultur der Moghulzeit, ed. J. W. Frembgen (Munich, 1996), pp. 113–43
  • A. Rehman: “Garden Types in Mughal Lahore According to Early-seventeenth-century Written and Visual Sources,” Gardens in the Time of the Great Muslim Empires: Theory and Design, ed. A. Petruccioli (Leiden, 1997), pp. 161–72
  • A. Rehmani: “The Persian Glazed Tile Revetment of Mughal Buildings in Lahore,” Lahore Mus. Bull., x–xi (1997), pp. 75–98
  • I. H. Nadiem: Historic Mosques of Lahore (Lahore, 1998)
  • N. A. Chaudry: Lahore Fort: A Witness to History (Lahore, 1999)
  • A. Rehmani: Masterpieces: Lahore Museum (Lahore, 1999)
  • N. A. Chaudry: A Short History of Lahore and Some of its Monuments (Lahore, 2000)
  • F. B. Flood: “Between Ghazna and Delhi: Lahore and its Lost Manāra,” Cairo to Kabul: Afghan and Islamic Studies Presented to Ralph Pinder-Wilson, ed. W. Ball and L. Harrow (London, 2002), pp. 102–12
  • J. L. Wescoat: “From the Gardens of the Qur῾an to the ‘Gardens’ of Lahore,” Islam and Ecology: A Bestowed Trust, ed. R. C. Foltz, F. M. Denny and A. Baharuddin (Cambridge, MA, 2003), pp. 511–26
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