FRIENDS, I am sure most of you know that Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) is an important agency of the United Nations. The main objectives of Unesco are to work for peace and security in the world, by promoting international cooperation in the fields of education, science and culture. It also strives to promote the rule of law, respect for justice and basic human rights.
Unesco also has the important mission of maintaining a list of sites which are of outstanding cultural, geographical or historical importance. The organisation chooses such sites worldwide and declares them Cultural Heritage Sites. It then ensures that these sites are well-preserved for the future generations.
Today we shall discuss the Unesco Cultural Heritage Sites in Pakistan. There are six such sites in Pakistan and at present, 18 more sites are under consideration by the Unesco.
The year the site was declared a Unesco Heritage Site has been written in brackets.
MOHENJO-DARO, which dates as far back as the 26th to the 19th century BC, is located on the right bank of the Indus River in Larkana, Sindh. The ruins of this largest and earliest urbanised city of South Asia were first discovered in 1922 by Sir John Marshall. Major excavations were carried on in 1930, revealing a well-planned and maintained city with broad streets, an intricate drainage system, well-built brick houses, a community bath and a huge granary.
Further excavations were stopped in 1965 due to fears of disintegration and work for the conservation of this historical site is going on since then. Artefacts made from gold, ivory and lapis, etc., suggest that the dwellers of this city were rich people who benefited from the highly fertile plains of the River Indus and trade with the nearby Mesopotamia. The Dancing Girl and the King Priest are among the famous statues found in Mohenjo-Daro.
SITUATED in Rawalpindi district, 30km northwest of Islamabad, Taxila, which means ‘City of Cut Stone’, is an important archaeological site. It dates back to Fifth Century BC and has nearly 50 sites spread over an area of 30 kilometres.
Taxila was an important Hindu and Buddhist centre and is considered to be of religious importance by followers of both religions. Here we come across the relics of Buddha, Alexander the Great and famous emperors Asoka and Kanishka.
Taxila reached its peak of development under Asoka and saw the most creative period under the Gandhara rule. For nearly two centuries it was a seat of great learning, with a university having more than 10,500 students. Science, medicine, astronomy, philosophy and mathematics were some of the important subjects taught there.
The ruins of Taxila are well-preserved and we can find the remains of the university, streets, houses, stupas and palaces, etc. During the excavations, gems, gold and silver coins, Gandhara scriptures and images of Buddha were discovered which can be seen in the Taxila Museum. The blend of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islamic cultures makes Taxila a rare and unique archaeological site.
AN important historical site 16km from Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Takht-i-Bahi (Throne of Origins), is situated on a 152m high hill. It is the remains of a complete Buddhist monastery with four distinct parts. The history of Takht-i-Bahi and the neighbouring small fortified city of Sahr-i-Bahlol ranges from the First to the Seventh Century AD.
Takht-i-Bahi was originally a Zoroastrian complex but with the advent of Buddhism, was converted into a Buddhist monastic complex. Due to its high location, Takht-i-Bahi remained safe from different invasions and is exceptionally well-preserved to this day. It is regarded by archaeologists as the most imposing relic of the Buddhism in the Gandhara region of Pakistan. Many fine sculptures have been dug up from this historical site.
The Fort and Shalimar Gardens, Lahore, 1981
THE Fort and Shalimar Gardens in Lahore are outstanding architectural monuments of the Mughal era which are famous for their royal grandeur. In the mid 16th century, Lahore became a centre of culture and art. Emperor Akbar built the grand fort in the walled city and the Deewan-e-Aam, built in red stones belongs to this era.
His successors kept on making additions to the Fort and Shah Jahan’s Naulakha and Sheesh Mehal and Jahangir’s pictured wall are great tourist attractions to this day. Though the fort was destroyed and rebuilt several times by various rulers, we can still see beautiful marble palaces and mosques decorated with mosaics and gilt.
The Shalimar Gardens, built by Shah Jahan in 1642, are spread over 16 hectares. These sprawling gardens are influenced by Persian and Islamic traditions and are divided in three descending terraces. They have multiple fountains in water channels. The mosaic, marble nets, waterfalls, large ornamental ponds, flowering plants and trees are a beauty to the beholder’s eyes.
MAKLI, the necropolis in Thatta, Sindh, is among the largest Muslim cemetery in the world. Its history dates back from the 14th to the 18th centuries. The tombs belong to four dynasties of Sindhi rulers, as well as Sufi saints and scholars.
The monuments and mausoleums in Makli are built from high quality honey-coloured lime-stone, intricately carved bricks and glazed tiles.
Some tombs of famous saints and the one of Jam Nizamudin II, are well-preserved. Makli represents the civilisation of Sindh in that era and can also be called a blend of Hindu, Mughal and Islamic cultures.
Rohtas Fort (1997)
ROHTAS Fort is a garrison fort built by Sher Shah Suri after he defeated Mughal emperor Humayun in 1541. Situated on a strategic location on a small hill near River Kahan, it is a classic blend of early Muslim military architecture and artistic traditions of Turkey and the Indian Subcontinent.
Located about 16km from Jhelum city in Punjab, Rohtas Fort has massive walls and bastions which run for over four kilometres. The fort has 10 gates which enclose the citadel and army quarters. Haveli Maan Singh added later on by Emperor Akbar has Hindu architectural influence.
Friends, the above-mentioned places are not only Unesco Heritage Sites, but also precious national assets of Pakistan! While visiting them, we should take great care to preserve them so that they retain their original structure.