Pakistan: History on hot Sand Stone
The Badshahi Mosque
So there are the New7Wonders of the World, the New7Wonders of Nature, apparently someone even nominated the New7Wonders Cities. If you asked me, Pakistan deserves a spot on every single one of these lists.
Just take the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. This stunning building was founded by Muhy-ud-din Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir, the Great Mughal Emperor of India. Within only three years it was built during the period from May 1671 to April 1673.
From the day it was finished it remained the worlds biggest mosque for over 300 years (as already mentioned this is quite an important statistic 😉 ). But then it lost this status in 1986 – which probably was not that dramatic, since the Badshahi Mosque was overtaken by the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, which means the record would luckily still be hold by a mosque in Pakistan. But then the cities of Mecca and Madina in Saudi Arabia set new standards in mosque magnitudes, which nowadays leaves the Badshahi Mosque to be “only” the 5th largest one. BUT: It still is the one mosque with the biggest “Mosque courtyard” world wide!
Entering a mosque, similar in a buddhist pagoda and hindu temples, requires to take off your shoes. The midday sun heats up the red sandstone to a temperature that makes it impossible to cross the courtyard barefoot. Therefore there are paths of cloth laid throughout the yard, soaked in cold water to make sure you can move around the whole place without burning your feet.
The atmosphere inside the yard is beautiful: kids frolicking around, families sitting in a quiet corner, having a snack and a chat, groups of young men patiently waiting in line to get into the little museum holding the history of the mosque. At the moment the muezzin starts to call for the midday prayer, people who were just dreamily wandering around, indulging in the beauty of this place, wake up from their cozy doziness and start to rush towards the prayer hall, regardless of the hot stones underneath their feet.
The interior of the prayer hall is just as beautiful and overwhelming as the massive courtyard. It is richly embellished with stucco tracery, fresco work and marble inlay. In motifs and technique the decor holds Indo-Greek, Central Asian and Indian architectural elements.
Other than being of an incredible appearance, the mosque also had a twisted history:
During the Sikh Period ( 1764 – 1849) the mosque was desecrated and used as stables.
In the early British Period (1849 – 1856) some of the side aisles were used as barracks for British soldiers who added, in best English manners, verandas and planted trees inside the courtyard. Also, in order to prevent the usage of the mosque as a stronghold, the soldiers demolished the eastern wall.
In 1859 the mosque was finally restored to the muslims.
With all those years of neglect came along heavy damage: Most of the red sandstone floor in the courtyard was destroyed, and so was the facade. The minarets have lost their marble cupolas, the overall appearance off the mosque was devastating. Bringing the place back to its old grandeur required restoration works for more than 20 years, until the mosque could finally be reopened in 1960.
In its architectural diversity – the vast square courtyard, the aisles at the periphery, the four corner minarets, the grand entrance gate and the usage of different materials and techniques – the Badshahi Mosque sums up the history of Mughal Mosque design that is preceded by over thousand years of architectural tradition.
Therefor I also think the Badshahi Mosque is the perfect spot to start exploring Lahore: Located in outskirt of the Old City, easily accessible by car (or rickshaw, or qing qi, or scooter 😉 ) it is a nice and a more or less quiet place to start to experience the beauty of this country.