Shalimar literally means “the Great Place”.
The city of Lahore is often referred to as the City of Gardens for the reason that many a beautiful garden of ancient and modern times and architecture are found all over the city. But the most unique and beautifully laid out garden remains to be the Shalamar gardens built by none other than Emperor Shah Jahan in 1642 AD, who also built the immortal Taj Mahal in Agra, India.
The Shalimar Gardens are located along the Grand Trunk Road some 5 kilometres northeast of the Lahore city centre. The site of Shalimar Gardens originally belonged to one of the noble family of Lahore, who were given the title of “Mian” by the Mughal Emperor, for their services to the Empire. The land for the gardens was donated by Mian Muhammad Yusuf, the head of Mian family, to Emperor Shah Jahan, who in return, granted the Mian family governance of the Shalimar Gardens. The Shalimar Gardens remained under the custodianship of this family for more than 350 years.
Watch a short video about Shalimar Gardens in Lahore
The Shalimar Gardens are laid out in the form of an oblong parallelogram, surrounded by a high brick wall, which is famous for its intricate fretwork. This garden was made on the concept of Char Bhagh. The gardens measure 658 meters north to south and 258 meters east to west.
The Gardens have been laid out from south to north in three descending terraces, which are elevated by 4–5 metres (13-15 feet) above one another. The three terraces have names in Urdu as follows:
- The upper terrace named Farah Baksh meaning Bestower of Pleasure.
- The middle terrace named Faiz Baksh meaning Bestower of Goodness.
- The lower terrace named Hayat Baksh meaning Bestower of life.
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From this basin, and from the canal, rise 410 fountains, which discharge into wide marble pools. The surrounding area is rendered cooler by the flowing of the fountains, which is a particular relief for visitors during Lahore’s blistering summers, with temperature sometimes exceeding 120 degrees fahrenheit. The distribution of the fountains is as follows:
- The upper level terrace has 105 fountains.
- The middle level terrace has 152 fountains.
- The lower level terrace has 153 fountains.
- All combined, the Gardens therefore have 410 fountains.
The Gardens have 5 water cascades including the great marble cascade and Sawan Bhadoon.
Buildings of the Gardens
The buildings of the Gardens include:
- Sawan Bhadum pavilions
- Naqar Khana and its buildings
- Khwabgah or Sleeping chambers
- Hammam or Royal bath
- The Aiwan or Grand hall
Aramgah or Resting place
- Khawabgah of Begum Sahib or Dream place of the emperor’s wife
- Baradaries or summer pavilions to enjoy the coolness created by the Gardens’ fountains
- Diwan-e-Khas-o-Aam or Hall of special & ordinary audience with the emperor
- Two gateways and minarets in the corners of the Gardens
Trees of the Gardens
Some of the varieties of trees that were planted included:
- Quince Seedless
- Sapling of Cypress
- Sour & sweet oranges
Try to imagine Shalamar garden as it was during Mughal times: a magnificent royal stopping-place in the eastern suburbs of Lahore. In those days travelers would approach the garden on foot or on horseback. Even if one were in Lahore, it took many hours to get there. During that time, the traveler would realize how closely Shalamar garden was related to the Ravi River. The garden stood virtually alone upon the riverbank. Its three broad terraces stepped majestically down to the floodplain. A broad canal led from the river to the garden, feeding hundreds of fountains, pools, and lushly irrigated plantings. The surrounding landscape seemed flat, dry, and scrubby in comparison.
These days the gardens have turned into the a picnic spot for the Lahorites, and is always busy. The garden is majestic in it’s size, and pretty impressive when you see the fountains and consider that they were built without modern technology. However, its excessive use and misuse by the crowd has robbed the gardens of its original beauty and landscape. The buildings deteriorated and greenery vanished. Therefore, in 1981, the Shalimar Gardens were included in the World Heritage list, under the UNESCO Convention concerning the protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage 1972.