Pakistan - Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme
Aga Khan Development Network

Pakistan: Conservation and Development in Gilgit-Baltistan and the Punjab

Shigar Fort, after restorationBaltit Fort, after restoration by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP) in Pakistan has restored a number of major forts, traditional settlements, mosques and public spaces in the high valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan province, most notably the Balit Fort in the Hunza Valley and Shigar Fort in Baltistan. More recently, it has begun work on the restoration of the Walled City of Lahore, Punjab.

The remote valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan, which were once a part of the old Central Asian Silk Route, were inaccessible to vehicular traffic until the construction of the Karakoram Highway in 1978. Increased accessibility, coupled with the impact of tourism, introduced a rapid transformation of local customs and economic patterns, which called for new strategic development visions and adapted procedures capable of steering ongoing rapid change. The conservation of the Baltit Fort, whose earliest elements date back more than 700 years, and the stabilisation of the historic core of the village of Karimabad in the Hunza Valley, were the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP’s) first major interventions, completed in 1996.

It was clear from this experience that meaningful restoration works needed to be associated with the ongoing rehabilitation of traditional settlements as well as promotion of building techniques. Projects in Hunza and Baltistan have included the restoration of several other historic forts and former palaces, as well as other culturally relevant landmark buildings. Baltit Fort has become a local history museum and cultural centre, while Shigar Fort (completed in 2004) serves as a small hotel. This holistic approach was followed in the restoration of Khaplu and Altit Forts.

The villages and neighbourhoods around the Forts, which were in danger of being deserted in favour of dispersed modern construction in the fields, are now being rehabilitated through active efforts of residents - a new trend which not only boosts cultural pride, but also helps reduce costs for road construction and infrastructure provision and saves the precious agricultural terraces from uncontrolled construction. Preserving indigenous values and at the same time introducing contemporary living standards (including sanitation) has been the key to the ongoing cultural development process, which is undertaken with the active involvement of the local communities.

Strategic planning principles to both protect and take advantage of existing environmental and cultural assets in the light of growing tourism are now being implemented through newly created local institutions, such as Town Management Societies and Cultural Heritage Trusts. New local NGOs have been groomed to revive and market traditional local crafts, such as weaving, embroidery, woodcarving and gemstone production.

These projects have won a number of prestigious prizes, including UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation given to Shigar Fort Palace, Baltit Fort and Amburiq Mosque; a Time Magazine Asia: Best of Asia Award; and a British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Award for the restoration of Baltit Fort. For more information, please see Awards.

Lahore, PunjabWazir Khan Mosque conservation project in Lahore, Punjab

Walled City of Lahore Conservation
Lahore, the capital of the province of Punjab, and the second most populous city in Pakistan, is also known as the "Gardens of the Mughals" or "City of Gardens", after the rich heritage of the Mughal Empire (1524 to 1752). This once fortified city has a concentration of monuments and buildings that reflect cultural diversity in architecture, and despite a dynamic and tumultuous past spanning several centuries has retained much of its historic urban form.

The Walled City of Lahore Project was initiated in 2006 by the Government of the Punjab and the World Bank. AKTC entered a Public Private Partnership Agreement with the provincial government to provide technical and financial assistance for the project and undertake to build capacities in urban heritage conservation. HCP has provided strategic planning services for the entire historic city while extending professional assistance for a pilot urban rehabilitation project which is integrated in a city-wide strategic framework for conservation and re-development.

The Strategic Plan developed by HCP for the Walled City aims to redefine the city’s role as a heritage site within Metropolitan Lahore. Promoting heritage-sensitive urban design, infrastructure improvement and residential land use, the area development framework integrates both landmark monuments and historic neighbourhoods.
Accompanying these efforts has been routine advice to the Government of Punjab on planning, legislative and administrative issues. Baseline surveys comprise a topographical map at the scale of the Walled City, an inventory of all 22,800 properties and a socio-economic survey of 1,757 households across the city.