The City in the Muslim World: Depictions by Western Travel Writers

  • Book Title:
 The City In The Muslim World
  • Book Author:
Mohammad Gharipour Nilay Ozlu
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About the Book – The City in the Muslim World

Presenting a critical, yet innovative, perspective on the cultural interactions between the “East” and the “West”, this book questions the role of travel in the production of knowledge and in the construction of the idea of the “Islamic city”.

This volume brings together authors from various disciplines, questioning the role of Western travel writing in the production of knowledge about the East, particularly focusing on the cities of the Muslim world. Instead of concentrating on a specific era, chapters span the Medieval and Modern eras in order to present the transformation of both the idea of the “Islamic city” and also the act of travelling and travel writing.

 Missions to the East, whether initiated by military, religious, economic, scientific, diplomatic or touristic purposes, resulted in continuous construction, de-construction and re-construction of the “self” and the “other”. Including travel accounts, which depicted cities, extending from Europe to Asia and from Africa to Arabia, chapters epitomize the construction of the “Orient” via textual or visual representations.

By examining various tools of representation such as drawings, paintings, cartography, and photography in depicting the urban landscape in constant flux, the book emphasizes the role of the mobile individual in defining city space and producing urban culture.

Scrutinising the role of travellers in producing the image of the world we know today, this book is recommended for researchers, scholars and students of Middle Eastern Studies, Cultural Studies, Architecture and Urbanism.Mohammad Gharipour is Associate Professor at the School of Architecture and Planning at Morgan State University in Baltimore, USA.

 He is the author and editor of several books including The Bazaar in the Islamic City (2012), Persian Gardens and Pavilions: Reflections in Poetry, Arts and History (2013), Calligraphy and Architecture in the Muslim World (2013), and Sacred Precincts: The Religious Architecture of Non- Muslim Communities across the Islamic World (2014). Gharipour is the director and founding editor of the International Journal of Islamic Architecture.

Nilay Özlü is an architect with Master’s in the History and Theory of Architecture and a MBA from the University of San Francisco. Currently, she is working as a Project Coordinator for the Topkapı Palace restoration projects and she is a PhD candidate at the Bosphorus University, Department of History and writes for art, architecture, and history journals. Her topics of interest include urban theory, museology, visual cultureal architectural theory.

 CULTURE AND CIVILIZATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST-,General Editor: Ian Richard Netton, Professor of Islamic Studies, University of Exeter

Where is the “greatest city in the East”?

The Mughal city of Lahore in European travel accounts (1556–1648)

To the Mughals, Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province in modern Pakistan, was the ‘City of Gardens’, the Dar al-Sultanate (Sultan’s Gate) and one of the premier cities of their empire alongside Delhi and Agra; the many Europeans who visited the Mughal realm during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries considered it one of the greatest cities of the East, and one of the oldest and fairest in al-Hind.

Father Antonio Monserrate, for example, a member of the first Jesuit Mission to the Mughal Court, described Lahore as “second to none, either in Asia or Europe, with regard to size, population and wealth”,1 while the Englishman William Finch described it as one of the greatest cities in the East.2

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These statements are not out of place when one considers the importance of the Mughal city of Lahore as an imperial capital, provincial capital, centre of trade and learning, place of pilgrimage and as a site of continuous great architectural patronage and urban development in the six- teenth and seventeenth centuries. Were these facts known, however, by indi- viduals who had not physically seen the city or visited the Mughal empire, but instead were merely reading about it in written accounts?

 Once the Mughal empire was established in 1526 there was a burst of European exploration in South Asia, one result of which was great curiosity about this newly-founded Muslim court and its fabled wealth. How, then, did European visitors to great Mughal cities transmit the importance of these urban centres to Europe?

This question was initially posed during research into how Europeans wrote about or commented upon the architecture and urban development of the cities of Lahore, Delhi and Agra during the reigns of the Mughal Padshahs (Emperors) Nuruddin Muhammad Jahangir (r.1605-27) and Shah Jahan (r.1628-58).3 The comparison of these cities’ descriptions was undertaken as Delhi, Agra and Lahore simultaneously served as the imperial capitals of the Mughal Empire between 1556 and 1648.4

While the Mughal court was peripatetic and moved with the person of the Emperor, thereby establishing the government wherever he was, it was these three cities which were designated as the stationary palatial and administrative centres of the vast realm and each contained a Qila (a Fort-Palace) which stood as the site of and monument to the pomp, wealth and life of the Mughal court.

 As the imperial capital cities of the Mughals, Agra, Delhi and Lahore enjoyed a level of architectural and artistic patronage which distinguished them from other grand cities of the empire; one of the preferred methods of the royals and nobility to show their partiality for a city was to patronize large-scale building campaigns within it and in the immediate vicinity. It is interesting to note, however, that most Europeans visiting Lahore between 1556 and 1648 do not convey this, for the multitude and variety of structures which comprised the urban city, including great palaces, havelis, gardens, pleasure pavilions, mausoleums and mosques, for the most part do not feature in their descriptions.

 The image created of Lahore in the collected travel accounts discussed below is minimal, and it is very rare to get a sense of the living city from the travellers who visited or wrote about it. This is in contrast to the manner in which Delhi or Agra were referenced, which is to say that, when mentioned, the important buildings and urban components of these two cities were commonly described in greater detail.

 In order to deter- mine why this may have been the case, written accounts of Europeans who visited the Mughal court between 1556 and 1648, the years these three cities were interchangeably utilized as the imperial capitals of the Mughals, were examined to see if this bias against Lahore predominantly occurred.

 This seemed an important question to ask, because if Lahore was neglected in these writings, at a time when there was a great influx of Europeans coming into the Mughal Empire, this could have symbolized a lack of European awareness of how the Mughal court worked and what was considered to be important at a civic level.

A bias towards Delhi or Agra in travel accounts could mean that those cities were considered politically more important, or had some kind of (perceived) enhanced value. It will be shown that there is a disparity between how the three imperial capital cities of the Mughals were discussed in the written accounts of contemporary Mughals and by European visitors to the Mughal court.

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 In spite of statements like those given above claiming Lahore as a city of great status, Europeans visiting Lahore between 1556, the year Akbar became emperor, and 1648, the year Shah Jahan’s new capital city of Shahjahanabad (today’s Old Delhi) was proclaimed the sole imperial capital of the empire, did not give the impression of Lahore as a great city in their written accounts. The ‘Greatest City in the East’ is missing. The descriptions and facts about Mughal cities written by European visitors were quite varied, and not all paid attention to the buildings and urban layout of the places they visited.

The result of this was that reflections on Mughal al-Hind sent back to Europe were skewed, creating a very limited picture of what these great, cosmopolitan cities were like. Another aspect of this vision created in Europe through the travel accounts was that, despite their being in a Muslim empire, religion did not play a large part in the writings of the authors examined below.

In order to elucidate and discuss this issue of representative absence, the writings of travellers who visited Lahore, and in some instances also Delhi and Agra, between 1556 and 1648 will be explored and contrasted with con- temporaneous Mughal accounts and historical details, followed by possible reasons for why this phenomenon took place.

 The travellers chosen for this discussion, including clergymen, merchant-diplomats and adventurers, indicate the widespread nature of the marginalization of Lahore in European accounts of the Mughal capital cities as they were from various European countries, and themselves were diverse in their professions and their own reasons for being in the Mughal Empire.

The question of Lahore’s ‘absence’ in their writings will be discussed by examining how the city was written about, which buildings and monuments were considered worthy of description, and noting the structures and spaces that were ignored.

European descriptions of the imperial Mughal capital cities (1556–1648)

The early modern period was a time of European interest in and explora- tion of the wider world. The resultant surge of interest in Asia made the written accounts of those fortunate enough to travel in this region widely anticipated in Europe, and many narratives survive in the form of travellers’ letters, journals and published accounts.

As many of these travellers wrote about the cities and landmarks they visited, their writings were some of the only means by which many Europeans experienced the great cities of the Asian world. In the sixteenth century, after the founding of the Mughal dynasty in 1526, and the later consolidation of Mughal rule under Akbar (r.1556-1605), a new region of interest opened up to Europe. With the third Padshah as the sole ruler over northern Hindustan, which before had been comprised of the kingdoms of the Sultan of Delhi and various Hindu princes, a central system  of power was put in place.

There were more trading opportunities to be found, and extra means of security in place for the safety of travellers. Prior to this, European visitors to the region had been rare, but during Akbar’s reign Europeans began to hear of the fabled wealth of the Mughal court and desired to establish diplomatic and trade links with it.

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As the primary site of political power, centre of culture, and where much wealth was spent on urban and architectural projects, the capital cities of states, countries, kingdoms and empires have generally been a focal point of attention for travellers.

It was therefore common for Europeans visiting the court of the Mughal Emperor between 1556 and 1648 to visit Delhi, Agra and/or Lahore, and some of those who did then wrote about aspects of the city, including its buildings, gardens and/or urban layout.

In describing the urban environments of the cities they stayed in or visited, travellers recorded only what they considered to be of spatial and/or architectural importance. These personal impressions were then translated into the realm of fact when relayed to a European audience, and as such, the image of the Mughal Empire and its capital cities that existed in the collective mind of Europe was created by the particular visions of a handful of people. As noted above, even when all three cities were visited by the same individual, it is intriguing how minimal their descriptions of Lahore were.

 The real city: Lahore through Mughal eyes

Before examining the European travel accounts relevant for this study, it is important to first take note of how the Mughals themselves perceived Lahore during the reigns of Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. By doing so, the contrasting imagery created in the European travel accounts discussed below is all the more evident.

The Mughal city of Lahore held much prominence in the Empire as it was one of the seats of the imperial residence, the political and cultural heart of the Punjab, the scene of great architectural patronage and a place reputed for learning.

According to the nineteenth-century Punjabi historian Latif, Mughal Lahore became the resort of learned men, poets, authors, orators and men versed in the science of theology and philosophy, who flocked to the imperial court from Bukhara, Samarkand, Mawarulnehr and other countries of Asia …

Fine gardens were laid out, canals dug to improve the means of irrigation, spacious mosques built, caravanserais constructed, palaces, domes and minarets erected, and an impetus was given to the architecture of the country quite unsurpassed in any age.6

In addition, Lahore was an exceptionally strategic city, due to its location at the crossroads of Hindustan and Central Asia, and under the Mughals the city was one of the important trade centres of their empire. This latter role was so crucial to the identity of the city that its primary street, running between the Delhi and the Taxila gates situated on the east-west axis of the city, was considered part of the great trade route between Hindustan and Central Asia.7

The initial Mughal development of Lahore took place during Akbar’s reign, during which time it enjoyed a great degree of architectural patronage, especially between 1584 and 1598, when the city was in continuous use as the imperial capital.8

This is evident in the description of Lahore given in Abu’l Fazl’s Ain-i Akbari, in that it was a large city [ … ] In size and population it is among the first [ … ] During the present reign the fortifications and citadel have been strengthened with brick masonry and as it was on several occasions the seat of government, many splendid buildings have been erected and delightful gardens have lent it additional beauty. It is the resort of people of all countries whose resent an astonishing display and it is beyond

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