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Pakistan's Architecture - A Gateway to History

By Mahnoor Saleem


The history of Pakistan has unfortunately been greatly politicised. Whether it is school textbooks, both within and beyond our borders, or partisan media outlets, much of the strength and courage our heritage boasts of is lost to one-sided narratives and ideological tunnels. If there is one, tangible source of information, and in many ways, pride, it is Pakistan's architectural landscape. From the ruins of Mohenjodaro, to the various facets of Islamic architecture, there is little this country has not experienced, and even less we cannot learn from exploring it further.


The Pakistan Monument // Image via World Architecture

A more modern depiction of Pakistan's history, once again through architecture.


A Timeline

Historians and archaeologists divide the timeline of architecture in Pakistan according to the religions and rulers in the region at the time. For instance, the architecture reflective of the Buddhist era of early centuries is referred to as pre-Islamic. The era beyond the 7th century, when the first Muslim voyages brought Arabs to the sub-continent is knows as the era of Islamic Architecture, where many cultural and traditional ideas were core aspects of the landscape. The third era in evolution is referred as the Colonial Period - when under the colonial rule of East India Company, a distinct, British-Indian architectural style was employed; this is the kind most greatly seen across India and Pakistan today. The final, arguably most significant architectural period is referred to as the post-colonial period, which, through incredibly nuanced aspects, reflects the identity of Pakistan as an independent nation-state.


Diversity in History

The Indo-Islamic style of tombs, mosques, palaces and buildings still stand tall today, radiating an aura of regality. Lahore's Badshahi Masjid, Wazir Khan Mosque, the Fortress Area with its adorned Alamgiri Gate, and the Shah Jahan Mosque in Thatta, each tell a tale of history backed in the bricks of buildings the Mughals commissioned. The Shah Jahan Mosque was constructed at the peak of Mughal rule, with huge contributions coming from Sindhi craftsmen. Despite being unconventional in the shadows of other orthodox Mughal views, it reveals the harmonious integration of communities and ethnicities in the sub-continent. The ancient Mihreblose Mosque in Bambhore (727) is viewed as the first Muslim place of worship in South Asia, and reflects the influence of Arabic architecture on the Indian artisan. The Hindustani style of arts, Persian masonry, Indian artisanship, and overwhelming Turkish influence in Arabic calligraphy made the era of Mughal Architecture a diverse amalgamation reflective of Pakistan's history in all its glory.


Badshahi Masjid in Lahore


British Colonial Architecture

The Indian subcontinent, which included modern-day Pakistan, was under British rule from 1849 to 1947, meaning that a significant influence of British architectural elements remains a part of Pakistan today. The era introduced European elements, fused with Indo-Islamic architecture, the remains of which are seen across major cities in Pakistan today. For example, historical sites like Mohatta Palace and Frere Hall, along with metropolitan sites like Aitchison College and Lahore Museum, continue to display a dazzling fusion of Mughal, Victorian and Gothic styles.


The famous Noor Mahal in Bahawalpur, pictured below, also reflects this. The domes, a largely Islamic influence, coupled with more Westernised work, made for a masterpiece Pakistan continues to cherish. Built in 1875 by Nawab Muhammad Sadiq, a number of myths and legends surround its original creation. It was used to host cabinet meetings, as well as other gatherings, and in 1906, Nawab Muhammad Bahawal Khan also added a mosque to its landscape. Today, the Mahal continues to stand tall, attracting visitors from across the country, and is also used to host delegations and meetings under the government domain.


Noor Mahal, Bahawalpur // Image via The Nation

A Gateway to History...

The architecture of any nation acts as a gateway to its history, and in the case of Pakistan, the architecture has experienced centuries of conflict and revival, and continues to tell the stories of its people through every inch of its decaying walls. It was present when Ashoka was ruling the continent, when the Arabs invaded, when the Mughals expanded and when the country was under British colonisation. Perhaps most importantly, it was here when Pakistan truly became Pakistan.

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