Lahore Fort’s basement chambers were forgotten by archaeologists and historians, but recent discoveries reveal their grandeur. Mughal nobility used them as summer houses and they provided a solid platform for multiple upper stories.
The basements under Lahore Fort are highly sophisticated in terms of engineering. Emperor Akbar built 2-3 stories of labyrinth-style, interlinked basements along the river side. This feat was never before done in India.
Jahangir and Shah Jahan continued the project by adding chambers, colonnades and courtyard gardens. The upper story of the basement chambers was mainly used for residential purposes, second story for storage and guards, and the third or ground level was a passageway through River Ravi.
Mughal’s oral histories boast of their extreme opulence and lavish parties held in the underground palaces. The Summer Palace located directly under the Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace) was completed in the mid-15th Century and came with the wonders of ventilation and natural lighting.
It’s fascinating to imagine these underground palaces during the Mughal Empire. But it’s also hard not to think about how it would feel to hide in the secret compartments, watching through the windows while enemies lay siege to the Fort.
The Sikh wall frescos support that the basement chambers had been used for residential purposes. During British rule, the fort changed altogether. British rulers added numerous additions and white washing to the fort, and it is said that the basements were mostly used to store liquor during the Colonial Era.
The only entrance to the basement is a secret door, which was created during the British period. During World War II, the area was handed over to the Civil Defence Department, which continued to occupy it till the early 70s. Almost all main arches were bricked up to shape rooms. Unfortunately, the Mughal era frescos were seriously marred by white washing.
The Archaeology Department worked until the late 70s to remove decade-old layers and discover wall paintings and frescos. Nowadays, general visitors are allowed to visit the basements during weekdays and every Saturday night at the History by Night Tour. However, there is still a lot of renovation work currently taking place.
It’s true that despite the conservation work done in the last few years, the basement chambers of Lahore Fort have not been fully restored. The area is vulnerable to increasing water logging, which is a clear threat to the structure’s strength. The basements are important as they offer insights into the old world, and losing this structure would be a grave loss for Pakistan’s national heritage.