The Lahore Fort (Punjabi and Urdu: شاہی قلعہ: Shahi Qila, or “Royal Fort”), is a citadel in the city of Lahore, Pakistan. The fortress is located at the northern end of Lahore’s Walled City, and spreads over an area greater than 20 hectares. It contains 21 notable monuments, some of which date to the era of Emperor Akbar. The Lahore Fort is notable for having been almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century, when the Mughal Empire was at the height of its splendour and opulence.
Though the site of the Lahore Fort has been inhabited for millennia, the first record of a fortified structure at the site was in regard to an 11th-century mud-brick fort. The foundations of the modern Lahore Fort date to 1566 during the reign of Emperor Akbar, who bestowed the fort with a syncretic architectural style that featured both Islamic and Hindu motifs. Additions from the Shah Jahan period are characterized by luxurious marble with inlaid Persian floral designs, while the fort’s grand and iconic Alamgiri Gate was constructed by the last of the great Mughal Emperors, Aurangzeb, and faces the renowned Badshahi Mosque.
After the fall of the Mughal Empire, the Lahore Fort was used as the residence of Ranjit Singh, founder of the Sikh Empire. The fort then passed to British colonialists after they annexed Punjab following their victory over the Sikhs at the Battle of Gujrat in February 1849. In 1981, the fort was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its “outstanding repertoire” of Mughal monuments dating from the era when the empire was at its artistic and aesthetic zenith.
The first historical reference to a fort at the site is from the 11th century during the rule of Mahmud of Ghazni. The fort was made of mud, and was destroyed in 1241 by the Mongols during their invasion of Lahore. A new fort was constructed in 1267 at the site by Sultan Balban of the Turkic Mamluk dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. The re-built fort was destroyed in 1398 by the invading forces of Timur, only to be rebuilt by Mubarak Shah Sayyid in 1421, In the 1430s, the fort was occupied by Shaikh Ali of Kabul. and remained under the control of the Pashtun sultans of the Lodi dynasty until Lahore was captured by the Mughal Emperor Babur in 1526.
The present design and structure of the fort traces its origins to 1575, when the Mughal Emperor Akbar occupied the site as a post to guard the northwest frontier of the empire. The strategic location of Lahore, between the Mughal territories and the strongholds of Kabul, Multan, and Kashmir necessitated the dismantling of the old mud-fort and fortification with solid brick masonry. Lofty palaces were built over time, along with lush gardens. Notable Akbar period structures included the Doulat Khana-e-Khas-o-Am, Jharoka-e-Darshan, and Akbari Gate. Many Akbari structures were modified or replaced by subsequent rulers.
Emperor Jahangir first mentions his alterations to the fort in 1612 when describing the Maktab Khana. Jahangir also added the Kala Burj pavilion, which features European-inspired angels on its vaulted ceiling. British visitors to the fort noted Christian iconography during the Jahangir period, with paintings of the Madonna and Jesus found in the fort complex. In 1606, Guru Arjan of the Sikh faith was imprisoned at the fort before his death.
Jahangir bestowed the massive Picture Wall, a 1,450 feet (440 m) by 50 feet (15 m) wall which is exquisitely decorated with a vibrant array of glazed tile, faience mosaics, and frescoes. The Mosque of Mariyam Zamani Begum was built adjacent to the forts of eastern walls during the reign of Jahangir. While the mosque likely served as a Friday congregational mosque for members of the Royal Court, it was not financed by Jahangir, although it likely required his approval.
Shah Jahan’s first contribution to the fort commenced in the year of his coronation, 1628, and continued until 1645. Shah Jahan first ordered the construction of the Diwan-i-Aam in the style of a Chehel Sotoun – a Persian style 40-pillar public audience hall. Though construction of the Shah Burj commenced under Jahangir, Shah Jahan was displeased with its design and appointed Asif Khan to oversee reconstruction. Shah Jahan’s Shah Burj forms a quadrangle with the famous Sheesh Mahal, and Naulakha Pavilion. Both are attributed to Shah Jahan, although the Naulakha Pavilion may be a later addition possibly from the Sikh era. The white marble Moti Masjid, or Pearl Mosque, also dates from the Shah Jahan period.
Emperor Aurangzeb, built the Alamgiri Gate, whose semi-circular towers and domed pavilions are a widely recognised symbol of Lahore that was once featured on Pakistani currency.
The Mughals lost the fort to the Afghan Durranis, who in turn briefly lost the fort to Maratha forces before being recaptured by the Durranis. The fort was then captured by the Bhangi Misl – one of the 12 Sikh Misls of Punjab that ruled Lahore from 1767 until 1799. The fort fell to the army of Ranjit Singh, who took Lahore from the Bhangi Misl in 1799. Maharaja Duleep Singh was born at the fort’s Jind Kaur Haveli in 1838. Duleep Singh had signed the Treaty of Bhyroval in 1847 that brought the Sikh empire to an effective end. The fort and the city had remained under the control of Ranjit Singh’s family until the fall of the Sikh empire in 1849.
During their occupation of the fort, the Sikhs repurposed portions of the fort for their own use. The fort’s famous Moti Masjid was forcibly converted into a Sikh gurdwara, while Ranjit Singh used the fort’s Summer Palace as his own residence. The Sehdari pavilion, or “Three-doored” pavilion, was added to the fort during Sikh rule. The fort’s Naag Temple was also constructed during Sikh rule, while the Mai Jindan Haveli was extensively modified during Sikh rule. The fort’s Diwan-i-Aam was destroyed in 1841 when the son of Ranjit Singh, Sher Singh bombarded the fort in his fight against Chand Kaur.
Excavations in 1959 in front of Diwan-i-Am led to the discovery of a gold coin dated 1025 CE belonging to Mahmud Ghaznavi. The coin was unearthed at the depth of 25 feet (7.6 m) from the lawn. The cultural layers were continuous to the depth of 15 feet (4.6 m) indicating that the fort was inhabited by people even before his conquest.
While relaying the deteriorated floor of Akbari Gate in April 2007, three floors in the fort were unearthed belonging to the British, Sikh and Mughal period. The floor of the British, Sikh and Mughal periods were constructed with bricks, burnt bricks and pebbles respectively. The latter either built during Jahangir’s or Shah Jahan’s era was the hallmark of Mughals.