Thursday, October 18, 2012 E-Mail this article to a friend Printer Friendly Version
Modification of historical places wiping out history in Multan
* Residents and members of conservation societies express concern over what is going on under Multan Beautification Plan
By Tariq Farid
LAHORE: Commercial interest in the name of a beautification plan are wiping out history in the city of Multan, as Damdama – a historical landmark and only surviving “watchtower” of the Qila Qasim Bagh – has been demolished and is being replaced by a “monstrous” structure.
Talking to Daily Times, residents and members of conservation societies expressed deep concern and regret over what was going on in the city under the Multan Beautification Plan.
According to sources, the Federal Ministry of Culture (now devolved) launched a project Conservation and Restoration of the Cultural Heritage of Multan in 2009, for which over 50 monuments were identified and detailed documentation of each monument comprising shrines, mosques, temples, city walls and gates in Multan city was undertaken.
They said that work on some of the projects started in 2011 and coterie of advisers proceeded by doling out contracts to unqualified consultants and contractors to ensure an equitable share in the allocated budgets.
“It was not conservation of the heritage which was a priority but the amount of money that could be made in construction and reconstruction,” said the sources.
Architect Fauzia Qureshi, who worked on several projects to conserve the cultural heritage of Multan, said that in 2006, the city government had undertaken an urban upgrading project, which included a traffic improvement programme in front of Ghanta Ghar (Town Hall). Multi-storied encroachments had grown in the open space between the Ghanta Ghar and the Qila Qasim Bagh.
She said that under the project, the encroachments were removed, including demolition of the Gol Market, a major illegal four-storeyed market, and the space in the foreground of Ghanta Ghar was cleared in order to ease the traffic on the chowk, where 7 roads congregated.
She said that commercial interests overwhelmed the importance of cultural heritage and the plan was scrapped.
“It was horrifying to see the work being done in Qila Qasim Bagh and Ghanta Ghar Chowk. In the open space that was originally developed as a roundabout and an open urban space, a mosque has been erected whose architecture neither respects the form of Ghanta Ghar, Shah Rukn-e- Alam, Deh Gate or the Damdama. A non qualified architect was commissioned this work,” she regretted.
To make matters even worse the original Damdama, a historic bastion of the Fort Walls (the only original part of the wall that had survived the blast of the siege of Multan by the British against the Sikhs) has been pulled down again as a design intervention by the same non qualified architect and in its place a double-storeyed building is under construction which accommodates a restaurant, she said.
“Yes the Damdama walls had developed cracks due to water penetration inside the mud mound but instead of taking preventative action to stop the water penetration, repair the cracks and if necessary remove the mud within the mound and create a space inside the walls as proposed in the PC-1 by the conservation architects,” she said.
A multi-storeyed plaza is also being built between the Ghanta Ghar and the Qila Qasim Bagh, which people say, would interrupt the visual connection between the two historical sites.
When contacted, Dr Javed Siddqui, a member of Multan Beautification Committee, said due to its dilapidated condition, complete restoration of Damdama was not possible.
He claimed that Damdama had developed 40-foot deep fissures and become dangerous, that’s why it was demolished. “However Damdama is being restored in its original shape and a restaurant is also being constructed at the site for tourists,” he added.
Dr Siddiqui said that a plaza was being constructed near Ghanta Ghar to accommodate around 150 shopkeepers, whose shops were demolished to widen roads.
“We have saved million of rupees by building a plaza, otherwise the government had to pay Rs 5 million each to the shopkeepers,” he added.
He claimed that the plaza was too low to cause visual intrusion from Ghanta Ghar to the fort.
On the construction of a mosque at the roundabout, Dr Siddiqui said that the government was under a great pressure by ulema, who had threatened to launch protests, in case the mosque was not built there.
Multan Development Authority DG Mumtaz Qureshi said that the original shape of Damdama was not being changed during its reconstruction, adding that the restaurant was being built above it to provide the visitor a chance to have a panoramic view of the city and enjoy food.
Despite government officials’ claims, ground realities tell a different story. The architects said that new shape of Damdama did not match the original one.
“In place of a bastion of the fort now is a building with pointed arches in which glass windows will be installed and a modern ramp leading up to the roof top as a viewing point. This action is criminal on part of whoever took this decision,” said Fauzia.
The monstrosity that has been erected in place of the historical landmark is inappropriate and ugly whose architecture is meaningless when compared to what stood there historically, she argued.
It is unfortunate that the government is obliterating the historical and cultural identity of the city, said Shahid Khan Lodhi, a resident of Multan.
“How can restaurants and plazas be an alternative to the historical assets, because tourists are more interested to visit the historical places. They have been deprived of the original Damdama - only surviving watchtower of the fort,” he said.