Built in 1156 by King Rawal Jaisal, Jaisalmer Fort dominates the countryside in the far northwestern corner of Rajasthan, near the border of India and Pakistan. The magnificent complex, also known as Sonar Kila ("Golden Fort") for its gleaming golden sandstone walls and buildings, flourished on the east-west caravan route connecting India and Central Asia to the Middle East and North Africa. Merchants built elaborately designed havelis among the numerous palaces, temples, bazaars, and residences inside the walls of the complex. The superb architecture within the fort was protected by double fortification walls and circular bastions, key physical components used for defense and battle. Additional features of the fort include a pitching wall to hold the clay soil of the hill in place, a toe wall, and the mori, a pathway between the inner and outer fortification walls that allowed soldiers and horses to move throughout the structure in times of war. The fort is deteriorating, and in recent times, human activities, especially the introduction of modern plumbing, have accelerated this deterioration. The need for extensive water-management infrastructure could not have been foreseen by the builders of this desert city. Yet, as tourism has increased and homes have been converted to guest houses, water drainage has become a real problem. The increase of water at a site built for a dry, arid climate caused water seepage into the clay rich soil under the fort, destabilizing it and setting off the collapse of 87 of its 469 structures. In addition, changing weather patterns—increasingly frequent and severe monsoons—are endangering the fort.
1996, 1998 and 2000 World Monuments Watch
In 1997, WMF partnered with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to conserve and re-build a collapsed wing of the Queen’s Palace and in 2001 began work on the courtyard of the King’s Palace. Both buildings were conserved, the Queen’s Palace was converted into a heritage interpretive center and the King’s Palace now functions as part of the fort palace museum. In July 1999, two bastions and a large section of the pitching wall collapsed during intense rainfall. This prompted WMF and the government of India, through the Archaeological Survey of India, to sign a memorandum of understanding in 2003 to prepare a conservation plan and conduct studies required to guide the stabilization of the fort. Geo-technical and architectural surveys were conducted, and a pilot project to restore a section of the pitching wall was organized. The studies concluded that it was not foundation failure that was causing recent building collapses, but water seepage that is destabilizing the clay-rich soils upon which the fortifications and buildings rest. Field testing also revealed subsurface movement in sections of the hillock, and the Geological Survey of India’s report identified a fracture or lineament line passing through the southwest corner of the fort. GSI’s report underscored the conservation team’s top recommendation to establish an integrated water management system providing separate storm water and sewage lines in parallel with stabilization and conservation works. In October 2007 the survey’s findings were presented at a public hearing in Jaisalmer. The existing problems and issues confronting the fort were outlined, the foremost being widespread water seepage and the detected movement within the southwest corner of the fort. Today, the Rajasthan Urban Infrastructure Project, a joint government of Rajasthan and Asia Development Bank project, is now in the process of providing the needed upgrades to the fort’s drainage systems. The studies produced by WMF of the fort are being used in the design of this infrastructure. A moderate earthquake struck Rajasthan in April 2009, leading to cracking and deflection in the King’s Palace. The tremor exacerbated the ailing condition of the building and raised the threat of a catastrophic collapse. In 2010, WMF provided support for the emergency stabilization of the structure.
Today, Jaisalmer Fort remains a labyrinth of residences, shops, temples, and a palace complex. Its walls surround a thriving city; its 2,000 residents make this the last living fort in India. Conservation and preservation is integral to the longevity of this medieval architectural marvel and to the lives of people who call Jaisalmer Fort home.