Lahore is the cultural and historical center of Pakistan. Today’s metropolis looks back on an eventful history: numerous kings, emperors and religious founders shaped its culture and traditions. This is one of the reasons why a visit to Lahore is part of every Pakistan trip.
Moguls, Sikhs and the British
The area around Lahore has been inhabited by humans for 4000 years. However, the heyday was heralded by the arrival of Islam in the Indian subcontinent: in the eleventh century, Lahore was taken by the Ghaznavids – a dynasty of Turkish origin – and made the second capital of the empire. Later, the Mamluk and Tughluq dynasties came to rule.
This constant change of power only ended in the 16th century, when the Moguls took over Northern India. Akbar, the third Mughal emperor, made Lahore the capital of the Mughal Empire. Some of the most impressive buildings date from this period, such as the Lahore Fort. Around the same time, Guru Ram Dass, the fourth of the ten Sikh Gurus, also lived in Lahore. Two hundred years later, Lahore would become the capital of the short-lived Sikh Empire. When the power of the Mughals began to fade, Ranjit Singh, the “Lion of Punjab”, took over large areas of the Punjab. Only with the arrival of the British did the Sikh Empire fall in the 19th century.
The British colonial rulers expanded Lahore, making it an important administrative centre for northern India. Lahore played an important role during India’s independence movement, hosting many freedom fighters, intellectuals and writers. In 1940, the Lahore Resolution was signed, which brought about the separation of India and Pakistan.
Since the partition of India in 1947, Lahore has been the most important city in Pakistani Punjab. While Islamabad is the capital and Karachi the largest city, the heart of Pakistan beats in Lahore – no wonder, given its rich past!
Sights in Lahore
All the rulers and occupiers, all the history have left its mark. Today, a journey through Lahore is also a journey through the last five centuries. The impressive Badshahi Mosque was built by the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb almost 400 years ago. It is one of the largest mosques on the subcontinent, and has great stylistic similarities with the Jama Masjid in Delhi. Up to 100,000 people can be seated here, especially in the huge walled courtyard.
Opposite the “Imperial Mosque” is the Fort of Lahore. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times, for example by various sultan dynasties and the Mughals. The present form of the fort has existed since the 16th century, when Emperor Jahangir had important renovations carried out. Later it was taken over by the Maratha, a Hindu warrior caste, and by Sikh armies. Inside the fort lie well-kept gardens, royal chambers and richly decorated pavilions. The Sheesh Mahal (“Crystal Palace”) enchants with its walls and ceilings made entirely of diamonds and small mirrors.
Lahore has been one of the centers of South Asian Sufism since the eleventh century. In the Data Darbar, a sacred Sufi shrine, is the tomb of Ali Hujwiri, a great Sufi poet and mystic. He has been instrumental in the spread of Islam and Sufism in the Indian subcontinent, and is the patron saint of the city. The Data Darbar is one of the cultural and religious centers of Pakistan. Every day, up to 60,000 believers come to pray here, during the annual Urs Festival even a million. Every Thursday there is music and dancing late into the night – an important tradition of Sufism in Pakistan and India.
Churches, Mosques, Temples
The Sacred Heart Cathedral was built by the British, and impresses with its Roman-Byzantine style. The Wazir Khan Mosque from the 17th century and the Neevin Mosque from the 15th century are two other important places of worship in Lahore. Hindu temples can also be found in the city, such as the Lava Temple. The Lahore Museum is one of the most important museums in South Asia, and houses Buddhist and Indo-Greek artifacts, among others.
Above all, however, it is the narrow alleys, the colorful bazaars of the old town, which remain in the memory of every visitor. The “Walled City of Lahore” is chaotic and noisy, but its traders and inhabitants are very hospitable and curious. Traditional robes and spices, jewelry and dried fruits are sold here, but also mobile phones and delicious street food.
Especially as a western tourist, one is welcomed with open arms and surely invited to one or two chai, which one drinks with a view of the centuries old palaces and mosques. And this is exactly what makes Pakistan such a beautiful destination: its rich culture and the heartwarming hospitality of the Pakistani people!