Renovation at Sheikhupura fort

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Sep 6, 2013.

Islamabad – A historical fort in Punjab might get the long-awaited attention it appears to desperately need.

The 17th Century Sheikhupura fort, which lies in the heart of Sheikhupura city some 35 kilometres away from Lahore, has been in a state of neglect and disrepair for years.

In 2011, some hope for the fort, built by Mughal king Jahangir, appeared when the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) awarded a $0.8 million grant for the fort’s conservation.

But the conservation project, which was expected to be completed by 2014, ran into delays due to administrative issues.

Now, renewed efforts are being made to utilize the AFCP grant for the Sheikhupura fort and get the conservation project up and running.

“Work is expected to begin over the next couple of months,” said Syed Azfer Iqbal, a programme management specialist at the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section in Islamabad.

The project is now expected to be completed by 2017, Iqbal said.

“The project will start with an assessment report of the site, including detailed documentation of the condition of the murals, wall paintings and the physical structure,” said Laura Tedesco, a Cultural Heritage Programme Manager for the US Department of State’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.

“That report will then inform exactly what physical work needs to be done to stabilize the site structure,” Tedesco said.

Tedesco, who is on a visit to Pakistan, said one of the reasons of her visit was to hold some meetings so “we can hone in on when we can officially start the project.”

“You know, there is a lot of red tape,” she said.

The project was originally awarded to the Federal Archaeology Department, which fell under the now-defunct Ministry of Culture, in 2011. But after the 18th Amendment, the preservation work was delayed as federal and provincial archaeology authorities mulled over which institution should be in charge of the project.

Iqbal said it has been finally decided that the federal Department of Archaeology and Museums, which now falls under the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage, will handle the work.

The Government of Pakistan will also put an in-kind contribution of around $200,000 for the project, bringing the overall project budget to $1 million.

Heritage Foundation, a Pakistani NGO which employs architects, structural engineers and preservation specialists, has been commissioned to work on the assessment work and restoration, Tedesco said.

The AFCP grant will not only support structural restoration at the 17th century Mughal fort but also preserve the structure and the murals at a 19th century Sikh haveli inside the fort.

According to some historical accounts, Jahangir built the fort in 1607 but some other accounts put the date of completion at 1619. Sheikhupura, which derives its name from the Jahangir’s nickname, Sheikhu, was a royal hunting ground during the Mughal king’s reign from 1605 to 1627. The fort is built of red bricks and boasts of delicate woodcarving and false ceilings, typical of Mughal architecture.

Later, in the early 19th century, Sikh Princess Rani Nakayani constructed two havelis inside the compound as her private quarters. The havelis are decorated with frescoes and murals.

Tedesco said the AFCP, which was established by the U.S. Congress in 2001, invites proposals for conservation projects from US embassies around the world which are then evaluated by teams of specialists in Washington DC.

She said Pakistan has received 17 AFCP awards since 2001, which is one of the most awards received by any country around the world. Previous AFCP grants have funded restoration work at Sirkap in Taxila, Shrine of Khawaja Ghulam Farid in Kot Mithan, Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore and Haveli Mann Singh at the Rohtas Fort among other projects.

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