Picture Wall of Lahore Fort
Established as the world’s largest mural Picture Wall, it was exquisitely decorated with glazed tile and faience mosaics, embellished brickwork, filigree work and frescos during the Mughal period in the reign of Emperor Jahangir in 1624 AD and completed under Emperor Shah Jahan’s reign in 1632 AD. It is 1450’x50’ (450 meters long and 17 meters high) wall seen right there as you enter the Lahore Fort. Each individual mosaic gives us an insight into the life and entertainment in the royal courts, such as battles scenes, royal portraits, mythical creatures, dance and music and geometric patterns; these unique elements became the principal reason for the Lahore Fort being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
Somehow, the wall had been neglected and not much importance was given to it in terms of tourism and conservation. People didn’t know that it forms the longest mural wall in the world, decorated in fine embellishment of glazed tile mosaics, giving the Lahore Fort a world heritage status. This wall envelops the Summer Palace and the Shah Jahan quadrangle, which includes the exquisite Sheesh Mahal and Naulakha Pavilion. The Hathi Pol gate forms an extension of the wall and entrance to the rest of the fort and latter structures, whereas the entrance to the surrounding context is served by the Postern Gate. A rich historical immediate context to the Picture Wall also includes the Sikh religious building of the Samadhi of Ranjit Singh; additionally adjacent are the Huzoori Bagh, Badshahi Mosque and Roshnai Gate.
The Picture Wall was constructed of small brick masonry with lime mortar; the bricks used were a special size specific to the Mughal period. There are various decorative schemes used on the facade including the typologies of glazed tile mosaic work, filigree work, fresco painting, brick imitation work, glazed lime plaster, pietra dura work, stone fret work, cut and dressed brick work and terracotta screens.
In September 2015, the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan began the documentation, presentation and promotion of the Lahore Fort Picture Wall, with financial support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture facilitated by the Walled City of Lahore Authority. This was the first step towards the conservation of the wall. Extensive documentation of the monument was carried out by a small technical team from the AKCS-P. Using laser electronic measurement and photo-ortho rectification technologies, an accurate highly detailed scaled record was created, depicting the wall’s present condition. This documentation was done according to high standards of precision, in compliance with the relevant international legal and technical requirements, as it is an international heritage site.
The first phase of the project involved the complete documentation of the 350’x50’ western section of the Picture Wall. The architectural documentation of the facade using electronic distance measurement devices was completed and high resolution rectified photography was done. Such techniques were used for the first time in Pakistan. This site has also been recorded as part of a demonstration for 3D laser scanning, which will be used extensively in future phases of work. A geo-technical and structural analysis was initiated through exploratory archaeological test pits along the base of the facade. Ground-penetrating radar was used to investigate the original level of the foundations of the fort, and identify potential sub-surface archaeological structures.
Specialists Mr. Talib Hussain, recognized for Architecture in 1983 for his work on the Tomb of Hazrat Shah Rukn-i-Alam in Multan, and Dr. Nadhra Khan, renowned historian of 16th-18th century Sikh and Mughal art, were also taken on board for supervising the material testing of the glazed tiles, preparing a chronology of past interventions and carrying out the interpretation and historical analysis of the iconography of the mural, which will culminate in an inventory and classification of its decorative elements and mediums.
The minor interventions done by the Sikhs in terms of embellishment and sealing parts depicting the existing condition and problems with the Picture Wall were also revealed. The Sikh civil war also caused damage to this wall as we can see bullet holes on the surface of the facade. A British intervention on a larger scale can also be seen through old photographs, involving the construction of barracks across the façade of the western segment of the wall, deteriorating the decorative surface of the bottom register. Later interventions include attempts at restoration in the 70’s and a recent intervention in 2014.
In 2018 the Aga Khan Culture Service Pakistan and Walled City of Lahore Authority took up the conservation of the western façade of the picture wall which is almost240 feet long in length and 50 feet high on average whereas it consists of 635 decorated recessed panels composed on three levels and is most decorative and embellished.
The conservation of this picture wall is a land mark project in this region. The process of conservation included the stabilization and consolidation of the Picture Wall’s structure, as well as its decorative elements, and warranted the expertise of both heritage crafts as well as conservators. It also included archeological excavation in order to expose the original Mughal era floor level which is 7 feet below the present ground level.
The conservation of the Picture Wall was inaugurated by the Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Imran Khan in 2019 who appreciated the efforts of the teams.