Lahore: History and Culture

Situated on the banks of the once mighty Ravi River, the city of Lahore has been a center of politics and culture for more than a 1000 years. Although there is some evidence of earlier settlements, the city became prominent with the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, and since then it has played a pivotal role during the the subsequent Mughal, Maratha, Sikh Empires and the British Raj. The cultural imprint of the different empires is present in the buildings and art of the city.

The old walled city flourishes to this day, there were 13 gates to the ‘walled city’ of which sever have been lost to time while six still stand today. The citadel better know as the Shahi Qila (Royal Fort) was mostly built during the Mughal era, and stands in all its splendor today; it has been declared a UNESO World heritage site. The sheesh mahal (palace of mirrors), picture wall and summer palace with its amazing cooling system are some of the amazing structures in the fort. The iconic and majestic towers that are now a symbol of the city of Lahore are part of a gateway to the fort called the Alamgiri Darwaza built during the time of the last great Mughal Aurangzeb Alamgir. After suffering neglect, the past few decades have seen serious restoration efforts undertaken by the Walled City Authority and the Aga Khan foundation and there are several guided tours available to explore the fort.

On the outskirts of the walled city is another iconic building, the Badshahi Mosque. Built during the Mughal era it was the largest mosque in the world for around 300 years. The structure is built from red sandstone and white marble with intricate tilework, the mosque is a classic example of the Mughal Architecture. Near the mosque stands a white and gold structure, this is the Samadhi (place holding the funerary ashes) of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Another architecturally interesting building nearby is the Wazir Khan Mosque, which is know for it’s elaborate tile work. A short distance from the walled city is the Lahore museum, which houses artifacts dating all the way back to the Gandhara civilization. On display in fornt of the Lahore museum is large bore cannon known as Zamzama (also Kim’s Gun) which was made in the mid eighteenth century.

Another well known symbol of Lahore is the Minar e Pakistan, a monument built to commemorate the site where the resolution of the establishment of Pakistan was passed in 1940. With botanical gardens and parks both historic and modern spread throughout the city, Lahore is rightly called the City of Gardens. Some of the must visit gardens and parks in the city include, the Mughal era Shalimar Garden complex, with its many buildings and fountains, the British era Lawrence Garden, Changa Manga and Jallo parks and wildlife preserves and of course the centrally located Model town park.

The British Raj (which was unfortunately caused much social and economic upheaval) left its physical imprint on the city in the many Raj era buildings which have their own distinct architecture. The General Post Office (GPO), Government College (GC), Punjab University (PU), and the Lahore Railway Station are excellent examples of buildings form this time. Lahore today is also know for its rich culinary traditions. From Pedestrianized Food Street and Jeda Lassi in the old city to Amritsari Hareesa, Feeqa Lassi and Baking Virsa in Gawalmandi, from the restaurants at Laxmi Chowk to the restaurants on M.M Alam road (this is just a glimpse of the vibrant food scene in Lahore) Lahore truly is a foodies paradise.

I have been based in Lahore for the past 15 years now, teaching at LUMS. The beautiful campus sometimes seems to be a bubble away from all the problems of a megapolis, I have met and become friends with some really amazing people here. Lahore has grown exponentially both in terms of population and geography over the past few decades, with massive infrastructure development, which unfortunately has also brought to fore all the problems associated with unchecked and unplanned urbanization. The river Ravi is at best a rivulet, water rights being held by neighboring India under the Indus Water Treaty, the riverfront (such as it remans) these days is being eyed by developers who want to add to the concrete jungle. On the flip side there is an active citizen based social movement which has worked hard to maintain the cultural legacy of the city, the annual music conference, a vibrant art and literature scene is synonymous with Lahore.

A rich cultural history, thriving arts scene and great food are how many Lahori’s think of their city. While I feel that this is all true, the best one word description of Lahore for me is ‘home’!

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