Introduction - Pakistan's Cultural Heritage

  • Type of Tangible Heritage
  • Archaeological Sites
  • Historic Monuments
  • Urban Historic Cores

Pakistan is endowed with a large number of ancient sites and historic structures. These historic assets are our link with our past and, as the custodians, it is incumbent upon all Pakistanis to stabilize and conserve them so that they could survive for many centuries more.

In an age when globalization is all pervasive, it is Pakistan’s ancient lineage that provides us with a distinct identity. Lest we forget —since this seems to be our best kept secret from the outside world — Pakistan is a treasure-house of ancient heritage, spanning over scores of centuries.

Pakistan is home to Mehargarh, Moenjodaro and Harrappa —it is the land that beckoned Alexander to sail down river Jhelum with purple flags fluttering; the spectacular Gandharan civilization as the seat of Buddhism; the devotional carvings of the Hindu Shahi temples of the Salt Range and Tharparkar; the stately funerary clusters of Makli, Multan and Ucch Sharif, a fusion of local trabeated and imported arcuate, representing successive Sultanate dynasties; the heart-expanding chahar-baghs and jewel-like edifices of the greatest kingdom in the world, established by the young ruler of Farghana; the Sikhs emulating the Great Mughals, and the shared legacy of eclectic architecture with its European overtones, a bequest of the British who colonized this land.

It is not only the ancient sites and historic monuments, but equally the historic urban cores, stretched from the peaks of the Khyber in the farthest north to the southern-most edge of the mighty river Indus — Peshawar, Multan, Thatta and Karachi, and scores of other living cities with their historic environments, all valuable in our search for, and understanding of our cultural diversity.

There are the Walled Cities, a depository of irreplaceable architectural heritage, with their organic morphology and the meandering streetscapes, which need to be saved from destruction, and revitalized to continue to endow our fast-growing urban centres with distinction, and historical flair. These footsteps of history are a reflection of a traditional value system, tempered over centuries, but needing support to meet the demands of contemporary life without losing their inherent radiance — the traditional lifestyles determined by, and themselves determining the historic environments.

This is our heritage that we need to safeguard as if family silver to be passed on to future generations to maintain our distinctive identity.

Type of Tangible Heritage

Pakistan’s heritage is among the country’s best kept secrets. The country has several World Heritage sites as well as countless sites of national and local importance. 

For ease of safeguarding, tangible heritage of Pakistan is considered in the following categories:
a. Archaeological sites
b. Historic Monuments
c. Urban Historic architecture

The Antiquities Act of the Federal Government provides protection to archaeological sites and historic monuments, however, urban historic architecture in most cities remains largely un-catalogued and unprotected.

Through the efforts of Heritage Foundation the Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act 1994 was promulgated by the Sindh Assembly. Through the heritage act, almost 600 heritage sites of Karachi, catalogued and published by the Foundation were provided protection. This is the largest number of protected heritage sites in any province of Pakistan. However, most of the historic towns in Sindh are in the process of losing the valuable heritage.

Under the Punjab Premises Act, a few dozens historic buildings have been provided protection in the entire province. The walled cities have suffered a great deal of degradation and loss of the historic environment. The recent proposal of Punjab Government at the revitalization of the Shahi Guzargah in the Walled City, originally identified by Yasmeen Lari in her Lahore Heritage Guide, is likely to bring the value of heritage for economic regeneration into sharp focus and it is hoped that it will be instrumental in revitalizing of other historic towns and districts.

Although Peshawar walled city is among the most exciting traditional environments, because of lack of protection, the city as well as other historic cities in the Frontier are in grave danger of losing their valuable heritage. The recent steps by the NWFP government, taken under the direction of Additional Chief Secretary, in establishing a Heritage Fund and the Documentation Centres as proposed by Yasmeen Lari, are likely to initiate a process of cataloguing and protection through participation of the private sector.

There is no protection to historic environments of Balochistan and its historic architecture is extremely vulnerable.

Archaeological Sites

Pakistanpossesses remains of several ancient civilizations. The most famous is Indus Valley Civilization which dates to 3,000 BC. However, due to investigations in Balochistan the remains of Mehergarh have stretched the antiquity even further back in time to 5,000 BC. The most famous sites of Indus Valley Civilization are Moenjoaro (Sindh) and Harrappa (Punjab).


The other famous ancient sites are evidence of Buddhist civilization that flourished in this land. There are several of them and are found in the northern part of Pakistan. They are situated in Taxila (Punjab) and Takht-e- Bahi (NWFP).


Most archaeological sites are protected under the Federal Antiquities Act.


Historic Monuments

The historic monuments are standing monuments or ruins which are found all over Pakistan. They represent various periods of our history and demonstrate the rich cultural milieu of the land. Thus, we can find historic Hindu temples in Tharparkar (Sindh) and Punjab, Sultanante period monuments in Makli Tombs, Thatta, in Multan and Ucch Sharif, and Mughal monuments in Thatta, Multan, Lahore etc. Many monuments are protected under the Federal Antiquities Act; however, there are thousands of others which still need to be provided protection.


Urban Historic Cores

There are many historic urban areas that are found in various provinces. Most of them had been constructed as walled cities e.g. Peshawar, Multan, Lahore etc. Although the walls have long since disappeared, the special urban morphology continues to provide them with a special character. Although there has been a lot of destruction in the past years, many of the historic structures continue to endow them with a special flavour. Unfortunately, due to lack of protection, we continue to lose a large number of valuable historic structures. There is an urgent need to provide protection to them in order to save the special flavour that the historic urban cores possess.


Most cities of Pakistan have a shared legacy with Britain. This shared legacy is equally important for the growing urban centres of Pakistan. The British built centres are now part of the Central Business Districts of major cities, gifting them with a special flavour. Except for Karachi, where over 600 buildings identified and published by Heritage Foundation, have been provided protection under the Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act 1994, and Lahore where over 3 dozen historic buildings have bene provided protection under the Punjab Premises Act, historic structures in most cities are gravely threatened. As part of growing metropolis, the compulsions for modernity is destroying valuable heritage.