LAHORE - Even after the passage of 69 years of Pakistan’s existence one of the wonders of the Mughal architecture remains off bound for local and foreign tourists. Summer Palace of Lahore Fort is not open for general public and is open only for special dignitaries. The place is in urgent need of special conservation as in past such efforts were done non-professionally. Parts of it were white washed to cover the dilapidated condition of palace.

The Summer Palace is basement of the Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace). It was constructed for the Mughal Royal family. As there was no electric power system in the 15th century Mughal era Summer Palace had special lighting arrangements. Summers can be very hot and humid. Summer Palace has special arrangements for ventilation. Even on the hottest day one can feel the fresh cool breeze circulating in the palace that is testimony to the expertise of master builders of the Mughals.

The North West corner of Lahore Fort that houses the mirror palace called Sheesh Mahal was built by Asif Khan for Emperor Shah Jahan in 1642 AD after the completion of Summer Palace. After Mughals, the mirror palace and the Summer Palace remained residence of Maharaja Ranjit Singh for decades.

The Lahore Fort is the home to world’s unique fresco paintings, and pietra dura work and paintings in large number where most of the precious fresco painting work has been faded away or vandalised due to the environmental conditions. There are 42 water cascade and fountain systems inside the palace, which once used to remain palace aromatic with mixture of scent and fragrances. The walls of the palace illuminated once with silver and gold fresco paintings.

A local guide at Lahore Fort told The Nation that ‘Summer Palace’ historically had only one entry point which was Mughal’s secret stairway to enter the palace.”During British Raj a door from Elephant stairs (58 in number) was made by demolishing small part of the wall,” he said.

In World War II the basements (Summer Palace) were made into storehouse for the Civil Defence Department, which continued to occupy it until 1973. The Federal Department of Archaeology in its annual report (1978-79) maintained, ‘ruthless additions and alterations in the main arches were committed by the Civil Defence Department. Almost all the big arch openings were either closed or their sides bricked up in order to provide smaller doors and windows, while thoughtless alterations affected the entire building. The process of frequent white washing the interior had resulted into thick layers of lime wash over the expensive fresco paintings. In short Summer Palace ... was in a deplorable condition.’

A senior official of Punjab Archeology Department on condition of anonymity said the conservation and maintenance of all the buildings were now under the control of the Walled City Lahore Authority since September 2014, and Archaeology Department could only provide assistance and expertise, if required.

The last time restoration was made in 2004 with support of Unesco and Norwegian government, a comprehensive report titled Shahi Qila reports ‘Shah Burj Condition Report’ by Heritage Foundation Pakistan was submitted which states ‘In 20114, it was found that even during the large scale restoration work as carried out in the basements (Summer Palace) no allocation seems to have been made to control the dampness in the wall, which continues to destroy the decorative features original and modern alike.’

WCLA Director General Kamran Lashari said when the fort was handed over to us we were stunned to see such a beauty locked inside the Lahore Fort. Now the conservation team is making the technical assessments and estimates for the conservation of the palace and it will be opened for the public later after restoration work. “I am of the view that heritage is damaged more if kept closed and this is what happened to this masterpiece,” he was of the view. “Summer Palace, the basement of Sheesh Mahal was an ignored wonder inside Lahore Fort. It had always remained closed and it was concealed to such a level that we hardly find anything on it on the internet,” said Tania Qureshi, spokesperson for WCLA. She added that WCLA, after restoration, would illuminate the entire palace and now very soon it would be opened for the public.