Aga Khan Development Network

Pakistan home



Microfinance & micro-insurance

Civil Society

Cultural Development

Rural Development

Other Countries


"The duty of responsible stewardship is very clear, a concept that can be equated to the notions of trust and trusteeship in today’s international legal terminology. The obligation to maintain the highest level of integrity in the management of donated resources, and of the institutions benefiting from them, is grounded in our faith."

His Highness the
Aga Khan, Conference on Indigenous Philanthropy, Islamabad, Pakistan (21 October 2000)

Cultural Development

When it began working in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, in 1992, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC)’s restoration and revitalisation activities became the most visible part of a broad area development programme undertaken by AKDN agencies.

The villages and neighbourhoods around Baltit Fort, which were in danger of being deserted in favour of new construction, have been rehabilitated with the active participation of residents.The villages and neighbourhoods around Baltit Fort, which were in danger of being deserted in favour of new construction, have been rehabilitated with the active participation of residents.The Aga Khan Trust for Culture, through its local company Aga Khan Cultural Service - Pakistan (AKCS-P), engaged in reviving pride and identity through interventions in cultural heritage that supported social, physical and institutional development. In the 15 years of operation from 1992 to 2007, several key principles guided the revitalization efforts. The first principle is that restoration must lead to the infusion of new life into historic landmark buildings, which makes them meaningful for the local communities and the users.

The second is that adaptive re-use of the restored building should lead to self-sustainability and allow for the generation of funds for maintenance and upkeep, to counter the risk of a restored site falling into disrepair.

The third principle is that the restoration of the building should not be seen in isolation. The landmark building acts as an entry point for development by helping to attract attention and resources. In recent times, AKCS-P has moved from first initiating work on a landmark building and then working on the context, to a more comprehensive strategy whereby community rehabilitation precedes restoration of the building. In Altit, the historic settlement has been rehabilitated and work has only commenced on restoring the 900-year-old Altit Fort.

The core theme underlying these three principles is that the architectural heritage of a region represents a valuable asset for human development--a potential which has to be properly acknowledged and activated at different levels of human existence, from the spiritual to the emotional and to the physical realm. There are important indirect benefits which can be obtained by using the built heritage components as a catalyst for wider social and physical upgrading of the surrounding environment.

These principles and the underlying core theme place the restoration of historic buildings in a much wider physical and socio-economic context that harnesses the active participation of local communities to not only restore buildings but undertake local skills enhancement and institutional capacity building as integral parts of each project.

Projects include the restoration and re-use of the 700-year-old Baltit Fort, the 450-year-old Shigar Fort, the ongoing restoration work on perhaps the oldest fort in Hunza, the Altit Fort, and the architecturally resplendent Khaplu Palace in Baltistan; emergent repairs to landmark buildings to arrest further deterioration; rehabilitation and revitalisation of historic settlements in Hunza (Karimabad, Ganish, Altit) and in Baltistan (Chinpa, Halpapa, Hunduli); solid waste management in central Hunza; assistance to local craftsmen and artisans; skills development in a variety of areas including Information Technology; promotion of local music and festivals; and support to environmentally appropriate building schemes.

Baltit Fort and the Village of Karimabad
Conservation projects in the Hunza Valley began with the 700-year-old Baltit Fort and eventually encompassed the traditional settlements in Karimabad. Baltit Fort was described by a visitor in 1979 as “a labyrinth of dark, smelly, dusty rooms” with decaying roofs pierced by holes and cracked walls that leaned precariously outside foundation lines. Yet it was undoubtedly a masterpiece of craftsmanship and thoroughly adapted to climate and function. Restoration work began on the Fort in 1992 and was completed in 1996. It has since become a local history museum and cultural centre.

The villages and neighbourhoods around the Fort, which were in danger of being deserted in favour of new construction, have been rehabilitated with the active participation of residents. In most cases, the traditional houses have now been reoccupied. The key to this successful revitalisation effort has been the introduction of contemporary living standards, including piped water and sanitation systems. Valuable arable land once slated for construction is still under cultivation. To plan future strategies for the growth and development of the town, a Town Management Society has been set up with the assistance of the Trust.

The restoration effort has won a number of awards, including a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Award for Excellence, a Time Magazine “Best Restored Treasure” and a British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Award.

Altit Village and Fort
The introduction of water and sanitation facilities has proven vital to the revitalisation of the traditional settlement in Altit Village and Fort.The introduction of water and sanitation facilities has proven vital to the revitalisation of the traditional settlement in Altit Village and Fort.The same phenomenon of desertion had occurred in Altit, a village located at the foot of the 900 year-old Altit Fort. Nearly a third of the homes had been abandoned. New construction was using up valuable arable land.

In an attempt to address this phenomenon and pre-empt the socio-economic consequences expected from a tourism boom, conservation efforts at Altit proceeded in reverse order: the village rehabilitation before the Fort. As in Karimabad, the introduction of water and sanitation facilities has proven vital to the revitalisation of the traditional settlement.

The conservation strategy for Altit Fort developed in 2004 calls for preservation “as found”, that is, basically as an empty shell. Most conservation works relate to mending structural defects, stabilising and repairing existing walls, replacing some roofs, treating wood decay and providing appropriate lighting.

Ganish Village
Conservation in Ganish has centred on historically important spaces such as the jataq, a traditional communal space used for public meetings, ceremonies and festivals. The use of this space had long been abandoned and the four exceptional mosques around the jataq were in a near state of collapse.

The Trust restored the mosques and the public space using methods developed in the conservation of Baltit Fort and Karimabad. Restoration also involved the remaining towers and gates of the original fortifications. The community pond or “pharee” was also rebuilt and the village guesthouse was restored.

Today, the Ganish Khun Heritage and Social Welfare Society manages the conservation, rehabilitation and maintenance of the village, as well as a wide range of social projects. Sales of entrance tickets to the complex generates income for the collective use of the community.

The Ganish restoration received a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Award in 2002.

Shigar, Baltistan
Shigar FortShigar FortThe restoration of the Shigar Fort/Palace and its conversion into the “Shigar Fort Residence” builds on a process that began with previous efforts in the Hunza Valley. However, while it builds on these earlier efforts, it also represents a pioneering approach that stresses a more active adaptive re-use.

Featuring guest rooms that highlight the heritage of the region, the project is meant to bring cultural and economic objectives together in a way that sustains the operations and maintenance of the Fort while providing a catalyst for economic improvement in the area.

The broader development project in Shigar includes restoration of mosques and the rehabilitation of the settlements of Chinpa, Halpapa and Khlingrong, including upgrading of water and sanitation systems. The fifteenth century Amburiq Mosque was restored to demonstrate that conservation of badly damaged monuments was feasible.

Shigar Fort has won a number of awards, including a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage 2006 UNESCO Award of Excellence and a Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Gold award.

Khaplu, Baltistan
In the Khaplu area, the Trust has undertaken restoration of the historic astana (shrine and tomb) of Syed Mir Muhammad, in Khanqha Settlement, and the Khaplu Fort. The astana restoration included the removal of the complete upper part of the building, moving the remaining structure back into place and replacing missing timber elements.

The Trust also selected the Hunduli village as the location for a demonstration project that would exhibit low-cost improvements, including social services, in individual dwellings and public spaces. These improvements were undertaken with local labour and materials (with appropriate technical assistance). The objective was to show that old homes could be re-adapted to new requirements - thereby preserving the heritage of the region - and that public spaces could be revitalised in a cost-effective manner. The project is also intended to revive traditional carpentry and construction techniques through hands-on training and to develop innovative uses of traditional materials.

The Amburiq Mosque, the first mosque built in Baltistan, was also restored by AKTC. It received a UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Conservation Award of Merit in 2005. The project was praised for its "sensitive conservation programme which was undertaken by the Aga Khan Cultural Services of Pakistan. The building and its courtyard have now been returned to modern use as a community museum, giving renewed life to one of the region’s historically and socially significant structures".

The astana (historic tomb) of Syed Mir Muhammad in Khanqha Settlement also received a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Award for "noteworthy restoration of the 300-year old mausoleum... which returns an important architectural and community landmark to its former prominence in the northern Pakistan highland settlement of Khaplu. The building’s aged patina and historic character have been carefully retained through skillful and sensitive conservation techniques."

AKTC has completed dozens of other restoration projects in Baltistan and Hunza, but the area remains a treasure trove of scores of shrines, forts, mosques and other buildings of cultural and historical significance. Most have fallen into ruin, but the potential still exists to use the experience of previous revitalization projects to convert this legacy into viable economic assets that lead to the creation jobs, economic stability and an improved quality of life Lahore Walled City Project and the Shalimar Gardens: AKTC is also involved in a revitalization of the Walled City of Lahore, in Punjab, Pakistan. Known as the “Gardens of the Mughals” or “City of Gardens”, after the rich heritage of the Mughal Empire (1524 to 1752), the city of Lahore is endowed with many fine buildings and gardens, including Lahore Fort, the Shalimar Gardens (built by Shah Jahan) and the Badshahi Mosque. Lahore reached its pinnacle when Emperor Akbar made it the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1584 to 1598.

AKTC, in partnership with the Government of the Punjab and the World Bank, has initiated a programme to contribute to the preservation of Lahore’s Mughal monuments and to support socio-economic development in surrounding low-income areas. In cooperation with other agencies, the Programme will work in the famed Walled City and provide assistance in the establishment of effective heritage management policies. As with other Trust projects, the restoration projects are expected to be a catalyst for area-wide urban and economic regeneration in the historic Walled City.

Return to top