The Lahore Fort (Punjabi and Urdu: شاہی قلعہ, romanized: Shāhī Qilā, lit. ’Royal Fort’) is a citadel in the city of Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. The fortress is located at the northern end of walled city Lahore, and spreads over an area greater than 20 hectares. It contains 21 notable monuments, some of which date to the era of Emperor Akbar (شہنشاہ اکبر). The Lahore Fort is notable for having been almost entirely rebuilt in the 17th century, when the Mughal Empire was at the height of its splendor and opulence.
Though the site of the Lahore Fort has been inhabited for millennia, the first record of a fortified structure at the site was in regard to an 11th-century mud-brick fort. The foundations of the modern Lahore Fort date to 1566 during the reign of Emperor Akbar, who bestowed the fort with a syncretic architectural style that featured both Islamic and Hindu motifs. Additions from the Shah Jahan period are characterized by luxurious marble with inlaid Persian floral designs, while the fort’s grand and iconic Alamgiri Gate was constructed by the last of the great Mughal Emperors, Aurangzeb, and faces the renowned Badshahi Mosque.
After the fall of the Mughal Empire, Lahore Fort was used as the residence of Emperor Ranjit Singh (بادشاہ رنجیت سنگھ), founder of the Sikh Empire. The fort then passed to the control of the East India Company after they annexed Punjab following their victory over the Sikhs at the Battle of Gujrat in February 1849. In 1981, the fort was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its “outstanding repertoire” of Mughal monuments dating from the era when the empire was at its artistic and aesthetic zenith.
The fort is located in the northern part of Lahore’s old walled city. The fort’s Alamgiri gate is part of an ensemble of buildings, which along with the Badshahi Mosque, Roshnai Gate, and Samadhi of Ranjit Singh, form a quadrangle around the Hazuri Bagh. The Minar-e-Pakistan and Iqbal Park are adjacent to the northern boundary of the fort.
Though the site is known to have been inhabited for millennia, the origins of Lahore Fort are obscure and traditionally based on various myths.
The first historical reference to a fort at the site is from the 11th century during the rule of Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi (سلطان محمود غزنوی). The fort was made of mud, and was destroyed in 1241 by the Mongols during their invasion of Lahore. A new fort was constructed in 1267 at the site by Sultan Balban (سلطان بلبن) of the Turkic Mamluk dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. The re-built fort was destroyed in 1398 by the invading forces of Timur, only to be rebuilt by Mubarak Shah Sayyid (مبارک شاہ سید) in 1421. In the 1430s, the fort was occupied by Shaikh Ali of Kabul (کابل کا شیخ علی) and remained under the control of the Pashtun sultans of the Lodi dynasty until Lahore was captured by the Mughal Emperor Babur in 1526.
The use of elephant-shaped column brackets in buildings of the Lahore Fort reflects the influence of Hindu motifs on Mughal architecture during the reign of Akbar.
The present design and structure of the fort traces its origins to 1575, when the Mughal Emperor Akbar occupied the site as a post to guard the northwest frontier of the empire. The strategic location of Lahore, between the Mughal territories and the strongholds of Kabul, Multan and Kashmir necessitated the dismantling of the old mud-fort and fortification with solid brick masonry. Lofty palaces were built over time, along with lush gardens. Notable Akbar period structures included the Doulat Khana-e-Khas-o-Am (دولت خانہ خاص و عام), Jharoka-e-Darshan (جھروکہ درشن), and Akbari Gate. Many Akbari structures were modified or replaced by subsequent rulers.
Emperor Jahangir first mentions his alterations to the fort in 1612 when describing the Maktab Khana. Jahangir also added the Kala Burj pavilion, which features European-inspired angels on its vaulted ceiling. British visitors to the fort noted Christian iconography during the Jahangir period, with paintings of the Madonna and Jesus found in the fort complex. In 1606, Guru Arjan of the Sikh faith was imprisoned at the fort before his death.
Jahangir bestowed the massive Picture Wall, a 1,450 feet (440 m) by 50 feet (15 m) wall which is exquisitely decorated with a vibrant array of glazed tile, faience mosaics, and frescoes. On the spandrels of the large arched panels below Jahangir’s Khwabgah (the Imperial Bedchamber) are azdahas or winged dragons from ancient Persian mythology, cup-bearing angel figures herons, cranes and other flying birds. Many of the scenes displayed on this ‘Picture Wall’ illustrate the court life of the Mughal sovereigns, their sports and their pastimes. One of the finest panels shows four horsemen playing the noble game of chaughan, nowadays known as polo. Most prominent are those relating to elephant fights, which were one of the favourite recreations of the Mughal court.
The Mosque of Mariyam Zamani Begum was built adjacent to the forts of eastern walls during the reign of Jahangir. While the mosque likely served as a Friday congregational mosque for members of the Royal Court, it was not financed by Jahangir, although it likely required his approval.
Shah Jahan period
Shah Jahan’s first contribution to the fort commenced in the year of his coronation, 1628, and continued until 1645. Shah Jahan first ordered the construction of the Diwan-i-Aam in the style of a Chehel Sotoun – a Persian style 40-pillar public audience hall. Though construction of the Shah Burj commenced under Jahangir, Shah Jahan was displeased with its design and appointed Asif Khan to oversee reconstruction. Shah Jahan’s Shah Burj forms a quadrangle with the famous Sheesh Mahal, and Naulakha Pavilion. Both are attributed to Shah Jahan, although the Naulakha Pavilion may be a later addition possibly from the Sikh era. The white marble Moti Masjid, or Pearl Mosque, also dates from the Shah Jahan period.
The fort’s iconic Alamgiri Gate was built during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb. Emperor Aurangzeb, built the Alamgiri Gate, whose semi-circular towers and domed pavilions are a widely recognised symbol of Lahore that was once featured on Pakistani currency.