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Fort Lahore, Pakistan
A centuries-old fort and home to some of Pakistan’s most storied heritage has fallen victim to unchecked urban growth and years of decay. But it’s getting a new lease of life. AFD is backing fresh efforts to restore the World Heritage Site and major attraction, which will be a boon for tourism and the country’s economy as a whole. On World Heritage Day, we take a closer look.

Built in 1566, the Lahore Fort is a major landmark in the walled Old City of Lahore – the seat of past Mughal and Sikh empires – and is an enduring emblem of Pakistan's rich artistic and cultural history. 

The fairy tale-like complex of buildings includes mosaics of glass and gilt, semi-precious stones and marble. It contains structures that are even more ancient than the fort itself, such as the Shah Burj Gate, go as far back as the year 1041. 

Sanding bricks for the Picture Wall 

A World Heritage Site in Danger 

It also includes the “Picture Wall”, which at about 460 meters long and an average height of 16 meters forms the northern and western façade of the Fort and is one of the largest murals in the world.  Together with the Shah Burj Gate, the Picture Wall forms the original entrance to the Fort. 

The wall is composed of a variety of materials and designs, from cut brickwork, to glazed tile mosaics, and painted lime plaster. It features an array of finely decorated recessed panels, and structures carved in sandstone and marble-work inlaid with semi-precious stones.

Years of neglect to the architectural masterpieces have however, taken their toll. 

In 1981, the Lahore Fort precinct and its 21 surviving monuments were inscribed as a World Heritage Site, but UNESCO declared it a Heritage Site in Danger in 2000, stressing the urgent need for major repairs.  

Further reading: the Economic Valuation of Urban Heritage 

Current Preservation Efforts at Lahore Fort

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture took action in 2007, entering in a partnership with the Punjab Government and the World Bank, and subsequently with the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA), to begin work on its restoration.  

In 2022, AFD stepped in with a loan of €22 million to shore up efforts aimed not only at safeguarding the monument and its precious contents, but also to commemorate part of Lahore’s multicultural legacy and the country's collective memory.

“The whole fort is a standing heritage,” says Kamran Lashari, the Director General of Walled City Authority. "The basements of Lahore Fort, which have been closed for 200 years, are getting restored through this AFD-funded project. And the best thing is that the restoration work is creating both employment and tourism opportunities.” 

In all, the project consists of three stages: 

  1. Tourism development with the construction of a state-of-the-art visitors' centre along with conservation measures within the Fort itself. 
  2. Improvement of the urban infrastructure, with conservation efforts, in the Buffer Zone around the Fort. 
  3. Initiatives for the WCLA and its project partners to strengthen their capacity as well as the creation of a Project Implementation Unit.

Lashari adds that the project is a hallmark of community development. Indeed, extensive restoration work has already created hundreds of jobs over the years, along with employment generated by boosted tourism. 

“For the promotion and preservation of heritage,” says Director of Conservation at the Walled City Najam us Saqib, “funding is crucial.”   

The involvement of several actors highlights the importance of a coordinated approach to funding major development projects, and today, the benefits are clear, and extend beyond the fort itself. The work underway also includes road repairs for example, as well as improved street lighting. 

With restoration work well under way, the Lahore Fort looks set to to recapture its former prominence as a thriving centre for tourism, education, and cross-cultural exchanges, paving the way for the majestic site to regain its former glory.