The Lahore Fort, also known as the Shahi Qila, or Royal Fort, is the third of the major Mughal Forts in its capitals, the other two being in Delhi and Agra. It is the most important historic site in Lahore.
Like the city itself, the Fort today is an accumulation of different layers of history – the Mughal Emperors have each made their mark on the fabric of the Fort, as did the Sikh and ensuing British Empires, as well as independent Pakistan.
The earlier sections of the Fort still standing were those built during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar – the Akbar Quadrangle is today one of the last segments of the Fort the visitor would experience, before stepping out. Here stands the enigmatic Hall of Red Sandstone, once possibly part of the Palace Akbar built here, which is today in ruins. Here stand also the Lal Burj and West and East dalans, with their red sandstone pillars betraying Hindu ornamentation, and reminiscent of Akbar’s city of Fatehpur Sikri.
The Emperor Jahangir, who, together with his Empress Nur Jahan, loved Lahore the most, built his own quandrangle, centred around the Bari Khwabgah, which was Jahangir’s Sleeping Quarters. This structure has been largely reconstructed during the British era. Jahangir was responsible for the Fort’s greatest achievement – the massive Picture Wall that graces the outer ramparts of the Fort. A vibrant composition made from glazed tiles, faience and frescoes, the Wall has unfortunately not survived well. Thankfully, when I visited, it was in the midst of being majorly restored by the Aga Khan Foundation.
Shah Jahan gave the Fort its most beautiful and enduring structures – his quadrangle (the Shah Burj Quadrangle) is a dream in white marble and the very first quadrangle the visitor would encounter today. Here sits the Sheesh Mahal, or Palace of Mirrors, with its walls decorated with pietra dura and thousands of small pieces of mirror. Here also sits the Naulakha Pavilion, the personal chambers of the Emperor Shah Jahan. It is said he embellished the ceiling of the Pavilion with glass so when he dined there with his beloved Mumtaz Mahal, the candle-light reflected upon the ceiling would give the impression that they were dining under a night-sky full of stars.
Shah Jahan also gave the Fort the exquisite Moti Masjid (or Pearl Mosque), which at the time of my visit was closed for renovations and inaccessible. What was accessible was the vast and cavernous Summer Palace complex in the basement of the Shah Jahan Quadrangle. This was where the Royal Family would escape in the hot Summer months. The Palace was cooled by an ingeniously-designed ventilation system that brought cool air from the outside into the Palace. Finally, Shah Jahan also built the Diwan-e-Am, or Hall of Audience in the Persian Chehel Sotun (40-pillar public hall) style. The Diwan-e-Am is an 1849 reconstruction during the British period as the structure was destroyed by the Sikhs in 1841.
Emperor Aurangzeb, the most pious of the great Mughals, gave the Fort and the city its most important religious edifice – the Badshahi Mosque. When completed in 1673, it was the largest mosque not just in Mughal India, but in the entire world. That title was only overtaken in 1986 (and there are quite a few mosques today larger than it). Aurangzeb also gave the Lahore Fort its most iconic Gate – the Alamgiri Gate, which stands across from the entrance to the Badshahi Mosque.
The Sikhs, under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, ruled the Punjab and Lahore from 1799 to 1849. They too imposed their presence onto the Fort. In fact, one of the first historic structures the visitor encounters at the Fort is the Samadhi (or Tomb) of Ranjit Singh, which sits in its own small compound, right beside the Badshahi Mosque and near one of the original gates to the Fort.
The Sikh quadrangle is closed off and forbidden to locals. But for a small fee and with a local guide, one who is not Muslim may enter the compounds to view the interior. The compounds also hold a Gurdwara that stands on the spot where the 5th Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan Dev was martyred. The entire site is thus one of great spiritual importance to the Sikhs, and site of holy pilgrimage. Once a year, Sikhs come here from all over India, Pakistan and the world to make obeisance.
Ranjit Singh also gave the fort his own Quandrangle – the Hazuri Bagh gardens, which link the Badshahi Mosque and the Alamgiri Gate. In the middle of the garden sits the Hazuri Bagh Baradari, built in 1813 in exquisite Mughal style to commemorate Ranjit Singh’s capture of the Koh-I-Noor Diamond. The Koh-I-Noor was ceded to Queen Victoria upon the British capture of Lahore, and remains today, part of the British Crown Jewels.
Meanwhile, the British, while in Lahore, took over the fort when they defeated the Sikh Empire in 1849. They used parts of it to store ammunition, and reconstructed other structures mentioned above. One of the first things a visitor would see today, is an ammunition store built on the ramparts of the Fort just behind the Alamgiri Gate.
Finally, during the independence period, yet another important monument would be built around the Fort, this time in the compounds of the Hazuri Bagh. This is the tomb and memorial to Allama Iqbal, a major poet of the British Indian period, who is widely regarded to have inspired the Pakistan Movement. He wrote in Persian and Urdu and is read by Pakistani, Indian and Iranian alike. The mausoleum itself is made of red sandstone and designed with Mughal elements. It is simple and dignified, and fits well within the larger context of the Fort.
The following gallery provides a view of the Fort from the perspective of the route the visitor would take through the Fort today. And thus the structures from various periods are encountered not in the order they were constructed.
Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
Lahore Fort proper
Essential Reference: LAHORE – History and Architecture of Mughal Monuments, by Anjum Rehmani. Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 2016.