The Enclosed City of Lahore

The Walled City of Lahore maybe have been founded in 2,000 BCE, however it is unknown for certain. But as late as 1864, the Lahori Mandi area had been known among the old folk of the Walled City as the mud fort. Along Lahori Bazaar, a short distance from Chowk Chakla, the street opens slightly, revealing a half-buried archway of pucca bricks and mud.

The mud fort may have been built by Malik Ayaz, the first Muslim governor of Lahore. Lahori Gate, like many other gates, it was built to keep enemies out. Although it is now surrounded by shops and stalls, it still has great architectural significance. In Urdu, loha means “iron”, and the gate is named Lahori because many lohars (blacksmiths) workshops were based just outside this gate, served as the main entrance to Ayaz’s mud fort. Chowk Sootar Mandi constituted one important center of Kacha Kot (‘mud fort’). The lay of the streets also suggest the boundaries. At the time of Mughal Emperor Akbar, the original wall of the Walled City of Lahore stood, on the western side, to the right of Bazaar Hakeeman in Bhati Gate. On the eastern side to the left of Shahalam Gate, curved eastwards and formed a “kidney-shaped” city that depended on the flow of the curving River Ravi. Thus the Lahore of the kacha kot era has continued to expand in three major leaps of expansion, each with an almost 400-year gap.

The oldest buildings in the entire Walled City exist in this area, among them the old exquisite mosque known even now as Masjid Kohana Hammam Chaileywala. A huge hammam (steam room) may have stood during the kacha kot period. The tomb of Pir Bola (Gali) still exists. Little remains of the original mud fort.

The Walled City of Lahore covers an area of 256 ha with a population of 200,000. The city walls were destroyed shortly after the British annexed the Punjab in 1849 and were replaced with gardens, some of which exist today. The Circular Road links the old city to the urban network. Access to the Walled City is still gained through the 13 ancient gates, or their emplacements.

The convoluted and picturesque streets of the inner city remain almost intact, but the rapid demolition and frequently illegal rebuilding taking place throughout the city is causing the historic fabric to be eroded and replaced by inferior constructions. Historic buildings are no exception, and some have been encroached upon. The few old houses in the city are usually two or three stories tall, with brick façades, flat roofs, richly carved wooden balconies and overhanging windows.

The walled city is famous for its gates, only few of which are still standing.

  • The entrance to the “Bhati Gate” is located on the western wall of the old city. The area inside the gate is well known throughout the city for its food. Just outside “Bhati Gate” is the Data Durbar, the mausoleum (tomb) of the Sufi saint Ali Hajweri. Every Thursday evening Na`at reciters and Qawawals (who perform Qawwali) gather here to recite Na`at (poetry that praises the Islamic prophet Muhammad) and perform religious Qawwali.
  • The “Dehli Gate” was once the main and only road that led from Lahore to Delhi. The gate was built during the Mughal era. Although the gate suffered greatly in the 1947 riots, it has since been renovated and today is in its former glory.
  • The “Roshnai Gate”, also known as the “Gate of Lights”, is located between the Lahore Fort and the Badshahi Mosque. As the gate was one of the main entrances into the city, it was constantly visited by Omerahs, courtiers, royal servants and retinues. In the evenings, the gate was lit up, hence its name. The gate was also referred to as the “Gate of Splendour”.
  • The “Shairanwala Gate”, also known as the “Gate of the Lions”, was made by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. After its completion, Singh placed two live lions in cages at the gate as a symbolic gesture to warn any invader.
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