Harking back : Original Lahore just 15 feet away

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Apr 20, 2014


Which heritage do we keep on harping about? In this piece I will not discuss the heritage on the ground, but of the one that lies below the surface. We know of the great grammarians and mathematicians that Lahore produced almost 3,500 years ago.

Their contribution to knowledge is respected the world over even today, but not in Lahore. Let me give you just three examples to illustrate what I want to convey.

The one science that confirms our past is the information derived from archaeological digs. This science has never been applied in Lahore. The first-ever, and only, archaeological dig in Lahore took place in 1952 inside the Lahore Fort, in which foreign experts assisted. It was kept a “state secret” for reasons academics can never understand, let alone appreciate.

A report by PEPAC in 1988 mentioned the results, which upset the government. The dig was just 52 feet deep, and they discovered, then, seven layers of habitation, the lowest dated almost 3,000 years ago. It was an approximation at best and never verified.But then this should have been enough to excite our scholars.

Nothing of the sort happened. The fifth layer, at 28 feet, was a huge brick-lined room with the debris containing pottery and other utensils. The sixth layer was a smaller room, which was brick-lined. Below that mud structures emerged. At 53 feet they stopped and the report ‘sealed’.

After that dig there was a long silence. Just three years ago at Mohallah Maullian, inside Lohari Gate, when traders started knocking down historic building to build their concrete godowns, without exception every house they dug had brick arches emerging eight to nine feet below the ground surface.

Mind you the highest point of the walled city is Chuna Mandi where the water tank exists. From that point water flows to the rest of the walled city. Mohallah Maullian is on a mound but furthest away from this highest point.

This meant that an entire city existed below the surface, which we did not know about. Our columns on this, as in other newspapers, did not excite the authorities to declare the entire ‘walled city’ a protected city. If anything the present rulers three years ago declared the entire city as ‘commercial’, and on protest gave a weak denial. That is where the matter rests even now.

But the real discovery came a few months ago when the Lahore Walled City Authority, using the expertise of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, started on a journey of discovery of the Shahi Hammam inside Delhi Gate. As they dig deep they were amazed at the wealth of discoveries that emerges almost 12 feet below the surface.

The original ground level, as the gates of the ‘hammam’, as are also reflected in the Wazir Khan Mosque gates levels, was almost nine feet below the current road level. Just visit the mosque and the hammam to see for yourself.

When the experts dug a wastewater disposal well to one side to protect the monument, they were shocked to find, 17 feet below the surface, the original water drain of the city that ran inside the protective city walls, built, mind you, by Akbar. In scientific terms this is a recent addition. We need to put this chance finding in perspective.

Given the data available so far, it is clear that the original Lahore lies well over 12 to 15 feet below the ground level of today. This means that we have, and I write these lines in serious earnest, one of the world’s finest ancient cities below the current surface of Lahore’s Walled City.

We need to dig at more sites to build up a picture, which even if incomplete at this stage, not to mention the damage done by traders, will bring forth our past much more sharply. Surely we deserve to know more about our ‘real’ past.




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