A historical edifice, the Ali Mardan Khan Villa in Peshawar has finally been restored to its former opulence after suffering a long period of abandonment. The restoration took three years.
The villa was restored by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government at a cost of Rs57 million and aims to showcase the city’s architectural grandeur and attract tourists that have stopped visiting the city after years of war.
This 17th-century villa was constructed by Ali Mardan Khan, who was a Kurdish military leader serving under Safavid kings, Shah Abbas I and Shah Safi, and later the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan. Due to its archaeological and historical importance, the structure was declared to be “protective antiquity” under the Pakistan Antiquities Act in 2009. However, no efforts were made after to revive its lost grandeur.
“It was an arduous task,” Nawazuddin, a research officer associated with the KP archaeology and museums director, told SAMAA Digital. “Highly bold and encouraging steps were taken that led [to] our success in achieving the common goal of preservation and promotion of our cultural heritage,” he said.
Who was Ali Mardan?
Ali Mardan Khan was the son of Ganj Ali Khan, a military leader in Safavid Iran of Kurdish origin and governor of Kerman and Sistan. Mardan Khan’s name first appeared with Safavid Kings under Abbas Shah who appointed him Governor of the regions. His name appeared again on surrender of Safavid Kandahar to the Mughals in 1638. Emperor Shah Jahan honoured him with the highest titles in Mughal courts and assigned a crucial role in administrative, political and military affairs. He was later appointed governor of Kabul, the farthest provincial centre of the northwestern portion of the Mughal Empire, which he held till his death.
His name is closely associated with the construction of several buildings, gardens, canals and forts. His distinctive contribution in public works includes a canal from River Ravi to Lahore, garden in Lahore, Shah Jahanabad (Delhi), bridge in Kabul and the Kandahar fort. He died in Kashmir in 1657 and the body was brought back to Lahore by his son, Ebrahim Khan, and buried at his mother’s tomb in Lahore.
Ali Mardan village over the years
During the Sikh rule, General Claude Auguste Court, a Frenchman, converted this garden retreat into a dwelling place where he lived with his family from 1827 to 1843. In 1847, Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Sir George Lawrence, the first deputy commissioner of Peshawar, officially converted the building into a residency. Lieutenant (later Lieutenant General) Harry Burnett Lumsden, the founder of the famed Corps of Guides, also lived here.
Over the years, the historic building has served as a garden pavilion, residency, treasury and record room in the 1880s and the Peshawar Brigade Headquarters in 1907 before becoming part of the Headquarters 11 Corps in 1975.
However, the structure of the building had gradually depleted with time. Consequently, the KP Directorate of Archaeology took an initiative for its restoration in 2015 with a budget of Rs57 million. The physical work resumed in April 2017.
An inside look at the preservation work
Preservation work started in January 2015, however, only 15% work could be completed till March 2017. The process of restoration remained suspended due to security concerns and the tragic Army Public School attack that claimed the lives of 144 children. Restarting in April 2017, the work finally finished in October this year and the villa was inaugurated by the Peshawar corps commander in November.
“The original structures as well decorations have been preserved and consolidated by providing steel and wooden shoring and strutting as well as restoring adjoined missing parts,” said Nawazuddin, adding that the aim was to maintain the original structure as much as a possible.
The paintings at selected portions that were missing and damaged domes and arches were restored and the Kashi (glazed) tile work in variegated designs, particularly on the front side, was restored using original and compatible material.
Missing steps on the staircases of the ground and first floors of the front side in the north and south arches were also restored. Polluted and decomposed plaster, tiles, concrete and other unsightly and unnecessary construction material were removed from the roof, while new tiles have been fitted onto the domes.
The decayed masonry foundation, ground and first-floor superstructure, roof and arches were replaced and stable patches of plaster were preserved either by edging or plastering missing sections. In addition to this, modified arch openings, pockets developed for the veranda and fireplaces causing instability of structure, were accordingly restored to ensure structural stability.
Original floor of a verandah, tile on edge in geometric design was unveiled by removing mud/ earth filling blinded with brick and concrete layer from 1.50 feet to 3.50 feet depth. Fountain system and water pond were also unveiled by removing heavy circular pillar in the main hall, which was erected to create additional floor while during the work, a network of covered drains built with tile masonry and terracotta pipe drains in various parts and for different function have been traced.