Lahore is the second largest city in Pakistan after Karachi. It is the cultural capital of Pakistan. It is an ancient urban centre. It was one of the major cities of the Mughals in the 17th century. Its location as an important crossroads in the northern Punjab brought riches as well as invading armies. As a result the city cultivated a rich architectural heritage that reflects the political fortunes of its conquerors. The modern city of Lahore, however, is organised along a pattern set mostly by the British during their approximately one hundred years of colonial rule over the Indian sub-continent.
Today Lahore has almost seven million inhabitants plus innumerable migrant workers from the surrounding small villages. Its precarious location between the Ravi River to the West and North and the Indian border to the east forced the city to grow mostly southward.
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, which is 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 one can still see in the city are usually two or three storeys tall, with brick façades, flat roofs and richly carved wooden balconies and overhanging windows.
The Shahi Hammam was built in 1045 AH (1635 CE) by
Hakim Ilmuddin Wazir Khan, Governor of Lahore, as part of an endowment which
included the Wazir Khan Mosque. Historically, the Hammam fell into disuse
probably in the 18th century during the decline and fall of the Mughal empire
and the chaos that followed. From the early British period onwards the Hammam
building has been used for many different purposes other than its intended one
- as a primary school, dispensary, and recreational centre as well as an office
for the local municipality. Additional shops were allowed along the length of
the building’s northern, western and southern façades.
In 2013, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture undertook the conservation
of the Shahi Hammam. The Hammam has undergone two earlier conservation
cycles: in 1991, when the magnificent wall paintings were re-discovered, and in
2005. By removing the marble floors laid in 1991, the secrets of the Hammam
have been revealed for the first time during the present conservation cycle. These
include the original system for heating the building as well as the water for
bathing, the manner in which the water was circulated in the building, and the
traditional manner of the use of the building. The project has also involved
the consolidation of the building's structure and the removal of risks of
further damage. Prior to the commencement of conservation work, WCLA
facilitated the removal of encroachments around the Hammam and all 52 shops
were removed with compensation. The hammam’s northern façade was also
consolidated and a retaining wall was constructed.
This video highlights the importance of bath-houses and presents the process of conservation of the Shahi Hammam.