The Wazir Khan Mosque (Punjabi and Urdu: مسجد وزیر خان ; Masjid Wazīr Khān) is 17th century mosque located in the city of Lahore, capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab. Considered to be the most ornately decorated Mughal-era mosque, Wazir Khan Mosque is renowned for its intricate faience tile work known as kashi-kari, as well as its interior surfaces that are almost entirely embellished with elaborate Mughal-era frescoes. The mosque has been under extensive restoration since 2009 under the direction of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Government of Punjab.
“This beautiful building is in itself a school of design”: Lockwood Kipling (historian, expert on British India and Rudyard’s father)
During Shah Jahan’s reign, architecture flourished across the Mughal Empire. His famous masterpieces include the Taj Mahal and the tomb of his wife Mumtaz. The Peacock Throne in Delhi, widely considered as the most luxurious and intricately embellished throne in the world, was also designed and built during his rule. A host of other structures were commissioned and overseen by the Emperor, including Emperor Jehangir’s tomb outside Lahore and the famous Shah Jahan mosque in Thatta.
Another architectural masterpiece of Shah Jahan’s era, the Wazir Khan Mosque, is located deep within the old quarter of the ancient Walled City of Lahore. It was built by the Governor (or Wazir) of the Punjab, Hakim Shaikh Ilm-ud-din Ansari. The construction of the mosque commenced in 1634. A short walk away from the Lahore Fort, the mosque acquired political importance as it became the official destination for the Emperor’s Friday congregational prayers.
It is set on what has come to be known as the Royal Trail, a 1.6 kilometer stretch from Delhi Gate – one of the 13 gates of the walled city of Lahore – that faced the seat of the Mughal empire. Mughal Emperors rode through this gate to the Lahore Fort.
Wazir Khan Mosque has borne witness to at least a dozen Mughal rulers, the transformative period of the British Raj, the bloody Partition of the Indian subcontinent, and the short but eventful history of modern day Pakistan. The mosque was so located in the center of the city that all the major routes and bazaars linked to it at right angles.
Constructed over a period of seven years, it was built around an ancient subterranean tomb of the saint Syed Mohammad Ishaq Gazrooni, also known as Miran Badshah, who migrated from Iran in the 13th Century and lived in Lahore during the time of the Turkish-Muslim Tughlaq dynasty.
The Wazir Khan mosque is rectangular, measuring 86.17 x 50.44m (282.7 x 165.4 feet), with the four imposing minarets (minars) defining the corners of the main courtyard.
Entry into Wazir Khan Mosque is through a large Timurid-style Iwan over a smaller portal which faces the Wazir Khan Chowk. The iwan is flanked by two projecting balconies. Above the iwan is the Arabic Islamic declaration of faith is written in intricate tilework. The panels flanking the iwan contain Persian quatrains written by the calligraphist Muhammad Ali, who was a disciple of the Sufi saint Mian Mir.
To this day the mosque is a haven of tranquility in the center of the bustling Walled City, flanked by the markets, homes, and tiny businesses stacked up alongside the narrow cobbled pathways of the inner city.
Stepping into the enormous sunlit courtyard, stretching 160′ x 130′, visitors come across the splendid piece of architecture. The courtyard is like an oasis of beauty, elegance and calm.
Entry to through the small portal leads into a covered octagonal chamber which lies in the centre of the mosque’s “Calligrapher’s Bazaar.” The octagonal chamber lies in the centre of what is the first example of the Central Asian charsu bazaar concept, or four-axis bazaar, to be introduced into South Asia. Two of the four axes are aligned as the Calligrapher’s Bazaar, while the other two align in a straight line from the mosque’s entry portal, to the centre of the main prayer hall.
Passage through the portal and octagonal chamber leads into the mosque’s central courtyard. The courtyard measures approximately 160 feet by 130 feet, and features high arched galleries surrounding a central brick paved courtyard – a typical feature of imperial Persian mosques in Iran.
The mosque’s courtyard contains a pool used for the Islamic ritual washing, wudu that measures 35 feet by 35 feet. The courtyard features a subterranean crypt which contains the tomb of the 14th century Sufi saint Syed Muhammad Ishaq Gazruni, also known by the name Miran Badshah.
The courtyard is flanked on four sides by 32 khanas, or small study cloisters for religious scholars. The mosque’s four 107 foot tall minarets are located in each corner of the courtyard.
The main prayer hall is richly embellished with Mughal frescoes.
The mosque’s prayer hall lies at the westernmost portion of the site, and is approximately 130 feet long and 42 feet wide. It is divided into five sections aligned into a single long aisle running north to south, similar to the prayer hall at the older Mosque of Mariyam Zamani Begum.
The central section of the prayer hall is topped by a 31 foot tall dome with a diameter of 23 feet resting upon four arches that form a square pavilion – a Persian architectural form known as a Char Taq. The remaining compartment in the prayer hall are topped by a 21 foot tall dome with a diameter of 19 feet, built in a style similar to that of the earlier Lodi dynasty. The northernmost and southernmost compartments also contain small cells which house spiral staircases that lead to the rooftop.
Walls of the prayer hall’s interior are also decorated with calligraphy in both Arabic and Persian. Each wall is divided further, and contain unique mosaic designs. The acoustic properties of the dome allow for the imam’s sermon to be projected across the mosque’s courtyard.
The mosque’s walls are almost completely suffused with detailed embellishment of kashi kari (tile mosaic), fresco painting, stone and chuna (lime plaster) decoration, and taza kari (brick outline fresco) on both the exterior and interior surfaces.
An important feature of the entrance area of the mosque is a Calligrapher’s Bazaar which crosses the axis of the entrance at a right angle, and is marked at this crossing with a large verandah (dewhri) with a dome atop.
Well-known khattats (master calligraphers) rendered verses from the Holy Quran and Persian poetry in elegant Nastaliq, Naskh scripts and Tughra forms within intricate geometric and floral outlines and forms.
The courtyard is flanked on the northern and southern side with 28 hujras (cubicles) and two pavilions facing each other across its width.
The prayer chamber, courtyard, hujras, vestibule and bazaar constitute the main elements of the structure.
Restoration works at Wazir Khan Mosque began in 2004. In 2012, the Pilot Urban Conservation and Infrastructure Improvement Project—the Shahi Guzargah Project was launched by the Government of Punjab and the Aga Khan Trust for culture which restored a section of Shahi Guzargah between the mosque and Delhi Gate. The project was completed in 2015 with support from the governments of Norway and the United States of America.
Prior to completion of the project’s first phase, the vicinity around the Wazir Khan mosque had been encroached upon by illegally erected shops which blocked off much of the mosque from the surrounding neighborhood. Tangled power lines further spoiled views of the mosque, and the Wazir Khan Chowk had been badly neglected and had shrunk in size due to illegally constructed shops. The first phase of the project removed illegally constructed shops, restoring views of the mosque. Wazir Khan Chowk was extensively rehabilitated by removal of encroachments, while the well of Dina Nath was restored. Power lines along the project corridor were also placed underground, and the Chitta Gate at the eastern entrance to Wazir Khan Chowk was rehabilitated.