Cultural heritage can only be preserved if people own it. Tourism industry has uplifted the socioeconomic conditions of many around the world, yet Pakistan, which is home to ancient civilizations and a number of UNESCO heritage sites, has not realized the true potential of its tourism industry.
The cultural heritage of a country is of great significance for its unity and sovereignty. Not only does it inculcate a sense of pride, but it also adds value to its soft image. Pakistan is blessed because it is a treasure-house of ancient heritage, spanning across centuries. The country boasts of many ancient sites and historic buildings.
Our cultural diversity stretches from Khyber in the north to Sindh in the south, with cities like Lahore, Peshawar, Multan, Thatta and Karachi, to name only a few. Pakistan houses Mehargarh, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, the amazing Gandharan civilization, the seat of Buddhism; the Hindu Shahi temples of the Salt Range and Tharparkar; Makli, Multan and Uch Sharif.
The country has the distinct honor of being the cradle of ancient civilizations dating back to more than five millenniums. Aryans, Persians, Greek, Mughals and Arabs: they all came and made their settlements here. In doing so, they left behind legacies and hundreds upon hundreds of archaeological sites of historical relevance to the world.
Pakistan possesses the remains of several ancient civilizations; the most famous being Indus Valley Civilization. The remains of Mehergarh hail from 5,000 BC. The most famous sites of Indus Valley Civilization are Mohenjo-Daro (Sindh) and Harappa (Punjab). The Buddhist sites in Pakistan are a proof that Buddhist civilization once flourished here. Located in the north of Pakistan, they are in Taxila, Punjab and Takht-e-Bahi (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
The national adviser of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for Pakistan, renowned architect Yasmeen Lari, has been involved in heritage conservationism. As a UNESCO consultant, she worked on the project ‘Revitalisation of Ancient Glazed Tiles in Sindh’ which aided the completion of Sultan Ibrahim’s tomb from the 16th century, and taught ceramic making skills to poor communities so that they could generate income.
Many historic urban areas had been constructed as walled cities in Peshawar, Multan and Lahore. The walls may have disappeared, but the historical flavor is still present. The Walled Cities of Lahore and Peshawar are an invaluable architectural heritage which needs to be preserved and protected. They are footsteps of history since they reflect our traditional values, diversity and colors.
Falling among one of the oldest living cities of South Asia, the importance of Lahore’s Walled City is evident in the richness of its architecture, like the citadel of Gor Khatree and caravan routes of our ancestors.
Falling among one of the oldest living cities of South Asia, the importance of Lahore’s Walled City is evident in the richness of its architecture, like the citadel of Gor Khatree and caravan routes of our ancestors. In Lahore, the NORAD (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) supported UNESCO/Government of Pakistan’s conservation project at Lahore Fort, and the documentation and information project in the Walled City has yielded dividends. Due to the involvement of the municipal government, encroachments have been removed and there has been an agreement to establish historical links between the Fort and the Walled City. A documentation center at the Lahore Fort has been established which will help in cultural heritage preservation.
The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP) has worked on the rehabilitation of the Walled City, laying the foundation for socioeconomic revival and, starting work on the city’s Mughal heritage, including documentation of the Lahore Fort and conservation of the Wazir Khan Mosque.
United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UNESCO have traced the histories of both Lahore and Peshawar and their bazaars, forts, churches, mohallas (neighborhoods) and gardens. Guidelines have been provided and tourists are coming in droves, attracted to the pottery, handicrafts and culture embodied in the floral motifs, pillars, arches and swings dotting the walled cities.
The Walled City of Peshawar is extremely rich in heritage, but environmental conditions in the Walled City have compromised living conditions which in turn hampers tourism potential and leads to the loss of traditional culture. The other critical issue facing cultural tourism in Peshawar is the lack of basic documentation of the Walled City's heritage.
Gilgit-Baltistan has a unique cultural heritage and it is home to seventeen different languages. One way of preserving cultural diversity and heritage is through the promotion of public libraries. The Municipal Library of Gilgit contains not only books but also historical documents and manuscripts from the pre-partition era. Libraries are also an invaluable resource because they can be utilised as community centers for cultural activities and gatherings.
The Antiquities Act of the Federal Government protects archaeological sites and historic monuments, but historic architecture in most cities often faces neglect. Thanks to the efforts of the Heritage Foundation, the Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act 1994 was promulgated by the Sindh Assembly. Through the heritage act, 600 heritage sites of Karachi, which were catalogued by the Foundation, were provided protection: the largest number of protected heritage sites in any province of Pakistan. On the other hand, under the Punjab Premises Act, a few dozen historic buildings have been provided protection in the entire province.
Pakistan’s shared legacy with Britain is evident in the structures dotting the country such as Frere Hall which has been well maintained. In Lahore, many historic buildings have been protected under the Punjab Premises Act. However, ancient structures in other cities are at risk of crumbling as modernity rears its head in urban centers.
AKHCP works on projects across Pakistan, from the Walled City of Lahore to parts of the Silk Road in the north. It has restored a number of major forts, mosques and public spaces in Gilgit-Baltistan, like the Baltit and Altit forts in the Hunza Valley and Shigar Fort and Khaplu Palace in Baltistan.
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has tried to improve socioeconomic conditions in the communities, by utilising the transformative power of cultural heritage. Restoration of landmark monuments helps unite communities, and mobilisation for developmental AKTC projects has led to increased local income opportunities and skill development. In fact, the rehabilitation of historic settlements around the heritage monuments has triggered a process of social transformation.
The conservation of the Baltit Fort, dating back 700 years and the stabilisation of the historic core of the village of Karimabad in the Hunza Valley, were the Trust’s first projects in Pakistan.
AKTC has also been involved in the revitalisation of the Walled City of Lahore in Punjab. Known as the ‘Gardens of the Mughals’, Lahore is endowed with many fine buildings and gardens, including Lahore Fort (a World Heritage site), the Wazir Khan Mosque, the Shalimar Gardens (built by Shah Jahan) and the Badshahi Mosque. Lahore reached its pinnacle when Emperor Akbar made it the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1584 to 1598.
In partnership with the Punjab government and the World Bank, AKTC started a programme in 2007 to help in maintaining Lahore’s Mughal monuments and to aid socioeconomic development. This resulted in the passing of legislation on the Walled City of Lahore by the Punjab government.
AKTC is also assisting the Punjab Government in the preparation of a Master Conservation and Re-Development Plan for the Walled City of Lahore. This plan stresses on the conservation of Lahore’s historic area’s core and on the improvement of the quality of life of its residents. The AKTC projects have been awarded many international prizes for cultural heritage conservation.
In June 2015, the conservation of the Shahi Hammam, a public bathhouse in Delhi Gate, was completed. Built in 1634 during the reign of Shah Jahan, it is a bathhouse constructed in the tradition of Persian and Turkish bathing houses. The Shahi Hammam has the distinction of being the only public bathing house in the subcontinent that survives from that era. Opened to the public as a museum in 2016, the Shahi Hammam, along with the majestic Lahore Fort, is a magnet for tourism in the Walled City. In 2016, the Hammam was awarded the Award of Merit as a part of the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
In September 2015, Aga Khan Cultural Services Pakistan (AKCSP), began documentation of the Lahore Fort Picture Wall. The mural spans the northern and western facades of the Lahore Fort and is adorned with glazed tiles and mosaics from the Mughal era along with filigree and frescoes. Decorated under the Mughal period during Jahangir’s reign, it was completed under Shah Jahan’s reign in 1632 AD. The intriguing murals illustrate the themes of the royal court – battles featuring humans and animals, angels and demons, fairies, as well as dance and music.
The Shahi Hammam has the distinction of being the only public bathing house in the subcontinent that survives from that era. Opened to the public as a museum in 2016, the Shahi Hammam, along with the majestic Lahore Fort, is a magnet for tourism in the Walled City.
In 2010, the conservation of Gali Surjan Singh was undertaken by the Government of Punjab, and supported by the German Embassy. Gali Surjan Singh is a street from the Shahi Guzargah, the main boulevard opening through the Walled City’s Delhi Gate. The street contains houses as well as stores of architectural value.
Recently, Karachi has seen the revival of the ‘TDF Ghar’ which was constructed in the 1930s under an almond tree with hand-crafted tiles. It was owned by a Hindu woman, Haribai Motiram. The building was witness to many a historical movements including the fall of the British Raj, partition of India and the birth of Pakistan.
In April 1961, the house was donated to The Dawood Foundation for philanthropic educational activities. But in 1991, it was closed down and occupied by Lyari’s land grabbing mafia. After a court case, the Foundation was able to repossess the property and restoration work began in 2016.
Located in Jamshed Quarters, TDF Ghar was home to multiple ethnicities such as Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Parsis and Jews. The area was developed by Jamshed Nusserwanjee in 1922. Jamshed Quarters was envisioned by Mayor and philanthropist Nusserwanjee as a home for the middle class.
An informal learning space for the citizens of Karachi to gather, TDF Ghar retains its heritage, but has been transformed into a public space. It showcases Karachi's past as well as its diversity of cultures. The three 'Numaish Halls' and a training room in the building’s first floor are used for workshops, training, seminars, and exhibitions.
'The Living Room' contains antique pieces and furniture such as vintage chess sets, gramophone, fine china, telephone and lamps, dating from the 1930s. The Parsi furniture, Anglo Indian dressing table and Irani chairs portray the cosmopolitan nature of Karachi. Sehan Café showcases the Irani café culture that Karachi was once known for.
An exhibition titled ‘The Jinnah’s’ gives a look into Quaid-e-Azam’s life and highlights the three powerful women – Fatima Jinnah, Ruttie Jinnah and Dina Jinnah – who influenced his life.
With no shortage of cultural heritage, Pakistan has ratified UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention 1972, but there are environmental threats as well as pressure to modernise. Pakistani sites listed on the World Heritage List possess great potential to attract tourists; resources that are generated can help in the conservation of these sites. The involvement of local communities living close to these places would lead to their economic and social uplift and also help in harnessing this invaluable cultural heritage.
Pakistan can give a much-needed boost to its economy through tourism. The Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Heritage should unveil policies with an eye on the future that preserve our cultural heritage, which would attract sustainable tourism. Keeping in mind the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 laid down by the United Nations, the concept of sustainable tourism is vital for the protection of world heritage sites.
Amidst the frenetic demands of globalisation, it is our ancient history that gives us a distinct identity. This heritage is our link with the past and it is the need of the hour for citizens to come together to conserve and preserve these monumental remnants of our glorious past.
Increasing awareness about Lahore’s historic importance among its prominent citizens has led to key partnerships. These include the Government of Punjab, the Walled City of Lahore Authority, the World Bank, the Royal Norwegian Embassy, the Embassy of Germany and the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.
Professor Rafique Mughal of the Archaeology and Heritage Management at Boston University, USA, says that heritage can only be preserved if people own it. He revealed that in 1994, NCA students formed a human chain around the heritage Tollinton Market on The Mall to stop its organised destruction. “The incident reflected the passion of people who held strong to their roots.”
The Tollinton Market was eventually saved and it was renovated. It now hosts exhibitions which includes thesis work by students.
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