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Cultural development - Overview

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 Baltit 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 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 Baltit and Altit forts in the Hunza Valley and Shigar Fort and Khaplu Palace in Baltistan.

Altit Fort, Pakistan.
AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer

Since 2007 it has worked on the rehabilitation of the Walled City of Lahore, laying the foundation for socio-economic revival and more recently has initiated work on a documentation and study of Lahore Fort’s Picture Wall.

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) aims to improve socio-economic conditions of rural and urban communities leveraging the transformative power of cultural heritage. Restoration and repurposing of landmark monuments as anchors for development, mobilises communities creating increased local income opportunities, skill development, promotion of local materials, institution building, restoring pride and confidence and improving quality of life. The community based, conservation of cultural heritage programme has evolved over the years with increased outreach and experience making it more inclusive as well as multiplying benefits. The upgradation and rehabilitation of historic settlements around heritage monuments has triggered a process of social transformation through institution and capacity building and is enabling local communities to have improved access to basic services. At the same time, conservation of material culture has enhanced awareness of the immediate environment, allowing for increased sourcing of various materials locally making environment and sustainability important priorities of cultural development. 

As it enters its third decade of dedication to cultural development work in Pakistan, the mission of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture has taken on renewed and heightened importance against the backdrop of the challenges that the country is facing, thereby emphasizing the importance of arts and culture in promoting understanding and collaboration among peoples inside and outside Pakistan, and thus, contribute to peace and security. AKTC became active in Northern Pakistan in 1989, in response to concerns that the unique culture of the area was under threat due to developments that followed the completion of the Karakoram Highway in 1978. Increased accessibility to hitherto remote valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan, which were part of the old Central Asian Silk Route but which had remained inaccessible to vehicular traffic, 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, the earliest elements of which 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.

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, had initiated a programme in 2007 to contribute to the preservation of Lahore’s Mughal monuments and to support socio-economic development in surrounding low-income areas. In cooperation with the Walled City of Lahore Authority work in the famed Walled City has continued to gather pace. This includes provision of assistance in the establishment of effective heritage management policies, which has also led to the passing of legislation on the Walled City of Lahore by the Government of Punjab in 2012. 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. These projects have won a number of international prestigious prizes, among them 13 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.