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Makatib Khana – The Unnoticed Monument In Lahore Fort

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In this feature, Tania Qureshi takes the readers inside the Lahore Fort’s Makatib Khana. The Makatib Khana is a monument within the fort which has been termed as an extraordinary creation of Mughal emperors. It is the best known historical part within the Lahore Fort. 

Have you ever been to the Makatib Khana inside Lahore Fort? Well, Lahore Fort, being a hub of tourists is visited daily by thousands of people. But this Makatib Khana goes unnoticed. I am sure you must be thinking where it is.

As you enter in the impressive and grand Lahore Fort, you will come across a strange building on your left in the garden areas. Instead of going straight to Deewan-e-Aam, you take left towards the canteen area and there you will see this imposing structure which is the Makatib Khana.

The Makatib Khana is a small cloistered court immediately adjacent to the Moti Masjid and the canteen of Lahore Fort. The word Makatib Khana means a ‘clerk’s room’, or a ‘secretariat’.  According to historic references, this was a place where clerks (muharirs) documented the entry of people into the fort.

A Persian inscription fixed on the façade of the vestibule of Makatib Khana says that the palace was built under the orders of Emperor Jahangir in the year A.H. 1027 (1617) under the superintendence of the architect Ma’mur Khan. The inscription which is carved in exquisite Nastaliq characters on the marble slab, states:

“In the twelve occasion of the blessed accession of his imperial majesty, the shadow of God, a Solomon in dignity, Kayumars in state, An Alexander in arms, the asylum of the Khlilafat emperor Nur ud din, son of emperor Jalal ud din, champion of the faith, corresponding with 1027, the building of the auspicious was completed under the suplerintendence of most humble disciple and slave, the devoted servant, Mamur Khan.”

While roaming in the arches and alleys of this monument I have always visualized the life in Makatib Khana which makes me fall in love with this beautiful monument, every time. Think for a while that the travelers coming into the fort, getting their names registered in the heavy registers with rough papers, clerks sitting there while wearing flowing robes and colorful headgears to welcome the royals and nobles of fort, the clerks taking notes for the entry reasons and giving the guests a gate passes and moving them to the desired place.

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I am sure there must have been strict security checks, guards greeting people and accompanying them to parts of fort and telling them to leave by the time fort gates would close.

The Makatib Khana is an extraordinary creation of Mughal emperors and the best known historical part within Lahore Fort. The monument is witness to the incomparable use of spaces, valued formation, and application of geometric proportions during the eminent era of Mughals. It is completely a sole combination of history, culture and architecture.

While visiting this place you can still see the traces of embellishment like fresco and ghalib kari. The beautiful colors of fresco paintings are still a reflection of its past glory and will grab your attention at once.

The small rooms in the Makatib Khana also describe the setting of the place in those times and I am sure the clerks would be sitting in those rooms and entering information of the visitors.

The huge and tall entrance has central arched openings towards east. It faces an open courtyard, square on plan and having oblong vaulted chambers on the east west and north. Yet another high arched way leads to the main court of the Moti Masjid Quadrangle on its north from where you can also access the canteen. Presently the Makatib Khana is a single story building having an open courtyard in the center. The structure of the Makatib Khana has built with the brick masonry and lime mortar.

Over the passage of time this place met with serious neglect and carelessness. It could not be turned into a hot spot of tourists like other monuments in fort. With the passage of time it also deteriorated and became derelict. The Walled City of Lahore Authority studied the monument and documented it. While documenting the monument using latest techniques it was observed that it was suffering from serious threat and damages. The experts of the authority analyzed during visual inspection that most of damages were in the form of cracks and some parts leaning. The complete documentation would lead to the conservation of the monument using the best practices for conservation.

I am sure that once this monument inside the fort is restored it will be a mind blowing site. It can be used as a gathering place for the tourists before they start a tour of Lahore Fort and the same place can house literary activities and discussions as well.

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Makatib Khana is one of the most important buildings inside Lahore Fort but previous conservation schemes for the fort did not cater to Makatib Khana’s conservation or preservation and this will for the first time that piece of art will be restored.

When we talk about Lahore Fort let me tell you that it is the only monument which is a manifestation of many centuries. The earliest reference to the fort comes in a history of Lahur (Lahore) compiled by Al-Biruni, which refers to a fort constructed in the early 11th century. He further notes that Munshi Sujan Rae Bhandari, author of the Khulasatut Tawarikh in 1695-96 A.D., records that Malik Ayaz, a favorite of Sultan Mahmud, built a masonry fort at Lahore and repopulated the city. Khan believes it is the same fort that was destroyed by the Mongols in 1241 and in 1398 by a detachment of Timur’s army after which it was rebuilt again in 1421 by Sayyid, son of Khizr Khan.

Mughal emperor Akbar demolished the earlier mud fort, and re-built it in burnt brick in 1566. Akbar’s successors, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb added several buildings to the fort. The fort has almost 21 different buildings in it. Those lying in the northern half are grouped in four blocks or quadrangles. Lahore Fort is the only monument in Pakistan, which represents a complete history of Mughal architecture and the eras following it.

Buildings inside the fort were also added by the Sikhs and British when they came into the power and took over Lahore fort. That was the time when fort went through many changes and also faced a lot of damages.

It is good to see that many unusual parts of fort are being conserved now and people have a lot more to see in the fort other than Deewan-e-Aam and Sheesh Mahal.

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