Pakistan aims to revive glory of ancient Mughal city Lahore

Tourists ride on a horse buggy as they look at the historic Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. (AFP)
Updated 02 March 2018
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Pakistan aims to revive glory of ancient Mughal city Lahore

LAHORE: Perched on scaffolding, restoration experts chip away at decades of grime and repair broken mosaic tiles in a bid to save the colossal murals depicting historic battles and regal ceremonies on the walls of Lahore fort.
The painstaking work is part of efforts to preserve Lahore’s crumbling architectural history as officials juggle conserving its diverse heritage with building modern infrastructure in Pakistan’s chaotic second city.
The metropolis, which once served as the capital of the Mughal empire that stretched across much of the subcontinent, has been subsumed into a myriad of civilizations across the centuries.
This rich past is most visible in the milieu of architecture salted across the Walled City of Lahore — from Hindu temples and Mughal forts to Sikh gurdwaras and administrative office built during the Raj.
“You get a history of a thousand years, 500 year-old houses and monuments and mosques, shrines and a very peaceful atmosphere,” says Kamran Lashari, director general of the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA).
Prime among them, and dating back to the 11th century, the Lahore fort was first built of mud and was then later reinforced with stone over the centuries by a long cast of Mughal emperors who oversaw its expansion and the accompanying artwork.
But periods of conflict along with searing heat, monsoon rains and years of neglect have taken a toll on the fort.
Despite the onset of decay, experts suggest the city’s vast Islamic architectural heritage could make it a contender to rival more established Silk Road travel destinations.
“Lahore can easily compete with Samarkand. It nearly matches Ispahan,” says Sophie Makariou, president of the Parisian-based National Museum of Asian Arts.
Makariou adds that its failure to shine is more to do with safety concerns that have plagued the nation after multiple attacks.
“Due to the bad reputation of Pakistan, it remains unknown,” she explains.
But as security across Pakistan continues to improve, officials are hoping to revive Lahore’s lost glory.
More than 40 conservationists with the the WCLA — including engineers, architects and ceramists from across the globe — are currently working on restoring the mosaic mural on the fort’s exterior.
“It’s one of the largest murals in the world. It contains over 600 tile mosaic panels and frescos,” says Emaan Sheikh from the Agha Khan Trust for Culture.
Restoration of the mural is just part of a larger project to refurbish the fort, which includes conservation projects in the royal kitchen, the summer palace and a basement, according to WCLA’s director general Kamran Lashari.
Similar work by the WCLA has already been done to revamp the artwork at the historic Wazir Khan mosque and the Shahi Hammam — one of the only surviving Turkish Baths in the subcontinent that is approximately 400 years old.
The city’s famed Delhi Gate, which once hosted extravagant Mughal processions arriving in Lahore from the east, has also been fully restored along with dozens of homes in the Walled City.
Many of those involved in the project are optimistic.
“The cities which are most famous for tourism, you can take London, Madrid, Istanbul, Rome, all the prerequisites which are available in those cities, are available in Lahore,” claims Ahmer Malik, head of Punjab’s tourism corporation, referring to Lahore’s architectural and cultural attractions.
Kamil Khan Mumtaz, President of Lahore Conservation Society (LCS), an advocacy organization promoting preservation projects, says the efforts run the risk of transforming the old city into a “Disneyland” to attract tourists.
“This was a pedestrian’s city. A pre-Industrial revolution modelled city. This should be conserved into that original state instead of remodelling buildings,” said Mumtaz, who is pushing for the use of traditional construction materials in restoration projects.
The calls runs into fresh conflict with infrastructure plans aimed at easing the city’s traffic congestion as Lahore adds high-rise buildings, malls, flyovers and amusement parks to its cityscape.
Lahore was the first Pakistani city to unveil a metro bus service, and is now constructing an inaugural metro train that Mumtaz and fellow civil society groups say will diminish the architectural history.
The city also faces fresh challenges as it it opens up to tourism.
Canadian visitor Usama Bilal complains: “There are gorgeous old colonial buildings, British era buildings but they are not well taken care of. There is no infrastructure built for tourists.”


Italy defiant as migrant ship stranded in Mediterranean

Updated 43 min 8 sec ago
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Italy defiant as migrant ship stranded in Mediterranean

ROME: Italy defiantly declared Saturday that its ports were closed to foreign-flagged rescue ships as German charity vessel Lifeline lay off the coast of Malta in limbo with more than 230 migrants aboard.
Malta — which is also refusing to take in the boat in a new diplomatic standoff with Italy — nevertheless said it had sent in humanitarian supplies.
“The Lifeline, an illegal ship with 239 immigrants on board is in Maltese waters,” Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini wrote on Facebook.
“These boats can forget about reaching Italy, I want to stop the business of trafficking and mafia.”
Salvini’s tough talk came on the eve of a emergency mini-summit in Brussels to address the divisive issue of how the EU can tackle the renewed influx of migrants and refugees seeking a new life in Europe.
Just three weeks in office, Italy’s new populist government is digging its heels in on campaign promises to stop the influx of migrants, threatening to seize rescue ships or barring them from its ports.
The crisis has also caused ructions in Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a rebellion from her coalition allies over her policies.
Meanwhile, more than 400 migrants were rescued in three operations off the coast of Spain on Saturday, just days after Madrid took in the more than 600 rejected by Italy and Malta.
And the Libyan navy said five people died and nearly 200 were rescued off its coast while trying to cross the Mediterranean.
The Italian government has said both the Lifeline, run by German NGO Mission Lifeline, and another ship Seefuchs, run by another German charity Sea-Eye, — would be seized and directed to Italian ports for investigation “into their legal status.”
Rome accuses the Lifeline of having acted in contravention of international law by taking on board migrants while the Libyan coast guard was intervening.
Earlier this month Salvini triggered an EU-wide row when he barred the French charity-run Aquarius rescue ship, carrying 630 migrants, from docking in Italy.
Malta also refused to take it in and the ship was later welcomed by Spain.
Salvini said Friday that Malta should open its ports to the Lifeline, adding: “Clearly, the boat should immediately be impounded and its crew arrested.”
But Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the Lifeline “broke rules” by ignoring Italy’s directions and should move toward its original destination “to prevent escalation.”
“Despite having no responsibility #Malta just provided humanitarian supplies” while its armed forces carried out the medical evacuation of one passenger, he said.
As the two neighbors squabbled, a Danish cargo ship carrying 113 migrants was stationed near the Sicilian port of Pozzallo waiting for instructions from Italy.
The Alexander Maersk changed course after picking up a distress call Friday, a spokesman for Maersk Line said, without specifying where the migrtants were rescued.
Mission Lifeline denied Italy’s accusations regarding the rescue in Libyan waters, saying it was the best equipped vessel to help.
“We are waiting for a diplomatic solution, discussions are under way between different states to host the Lifeline and those rescued,” the organization’s representative in Germany, Axel Steier, told AFP.
Steier said 14 women and four children were among those on board.
The issue of migration was thrust to the forefront of the EU agenda after Italy turned away the Aquarius.
But the Aquarius defiantly vowed to continue its work and an AFP photographer on board said Saturday that it was currently responding to distress call in Tunisian waters.
Italy hard-line stance comes at a time of deep EU tensions on immigration.
Sunday’s mini-summit is supposed to prepare for a full summit next week, where 28 EU leaders will discuss plans to overhaul the bloc’s asylum system, which has been under severe pressure since the migration crisis exploded in 2015.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel — facing a ferocious political backlash for letting in over one million asylum seekers into Europe’s biggest economy — played down expectations of a quick solution.
“We know that no solution will be reached on Thursday and Friday at the level of the 28 member states... on the overall issue of migration,” she said on a visit to Lebanon.
Instead, she said, “bilateral, trilateral and multilateral” deals must be reached to tackle the issue.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer warned Monday he would give Merkel a fortnight to find a European deal to curb new arrivals, failing which he vowed to order border police to turn back migrants.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis also said Friday he was ready to start turning away migrants if Berlin and Vienna did so.