Karachi: The Conservation of the 17th Century Shahi Hammam in the Walled City of Lahore has received the Award of Merit in this year’s UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation, announced in Bangkok on 1st September 2016. The Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan (AKCSP), with financial support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy (RNE) and facilitation from the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA), carried out the conservation of the Mughal-era public bathhouse. The two-year project which was completed in 2015 is part of a successful public-private partnership between the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Government of Punjab. The primary objectives of the conservation effort were to re-establish the monument as a bathhouse through the exposure, conservation and display of the remains of the original waterworks, drainage and hypocaust system through archaeological excavation, structural consolidation and restoration of the historic floor levels.
The UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation programme recognizes the efforts of private individuals and organizations that have successfully restored and conserved structures and buildings of heritage value in the region. The winners were selected on the basis of the extent to which the projects reflected a clear understanding and application of various criteria, such as the articulation of the spirit of place, technical achievement, appropriate use or adaption, and the project’s contribution to the surrounding environment as well as the local community’s cultural and historical continuity. A total of 13 winning projects from six countries – Australia, China, India, Iran, Japan and Pakistan – have been recognized in this year’s Heritage Awards. A panel of international conservation experts met in Bangkok to review the 40 Heritage Awards entries, and observed the following about the Shahi Hammam project:
“Undertaken with a high degree of technical proficiency, the restoration of Shahi Hammam has safeguarded a unique example of the monumental 17th-century Mughal public bathhouse. The team of international and local experts and artisans adeptly addressed the issues of significant structural damage and loss of fabric resulting from inappropriate alterations, poor conservation work and encroachment. Careful investigation and analysis informed the conservation effort, including architectural consolidation and the preservation of frescos and other decorative elements.
The Shahi Hammam is the first example of a monument conservation of its kind in Punjab, and is evidence of the success of the partnership between AKCSP and WCLA. The latter played a significant role in social mobilisation, raising awareness about the project and developing a sustained media presence around heritage conservation in the Walled City. The Hammam project has also paved the way for similar monumental conservation in other parts of the Walled City, like the rehabilitation of the Chowk Wazir Khan, and preparatory documentation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Lahore Fort; both these projects are being carried out with financial assistance from the US and Norwegian Embassies in Pakistan.
The Hammam has now been established as a heritage museum-site that welcomes tourists and visitors from all over the world into the Walled City, and is kept alive as a venue for talks, seminars and cultural and corporate events. Since its opening in June 2015, the Hammam has been visited by upwards of 23,000 local and 1,200 international visitors, and is increasingly becoming the centrepiece of tourism in the Walled City, along with the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Lahore Fort.