The ancient city of Uch, located west of Lahore on the edge of the Cholistan Desert, was one of several metropolises founded by Alexander the Great on his crusade through Central Asia in the late 4th century B.C. During the 12th century A.D., Uch was the capital of the Delhi Sultanate, a major trade station along the route to the Arabian Sea, and an important defensive post that resisted Mongol advances toward India. Islamic intellectuals fled from conflict in other areas of the region and flocked to Uch, which became a thriving hub of religious activity and scholarship. The 16 Sufi mausoleums and sacred buildings that compose the Uch Monument Complex were commissioned by powerful Mughal elite in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The three largest tombs, Bibi Jawandi, Baha-ul Halim, and Ustad Nuria, dominate the landscape and exemplify the Mughal influence on indigenous Punjab architecture. These intricate, ceramic and brick structures were built on octagonal or square plans and were decorated with bright blue and white glazed tiles forming geometric patterns and floral motifs. In 1820, a flood damaged the Uch Monument Complex and began a trend of deterioration that has since escalated.
1996, 2000 and 2002 World Monuments Watch
The complex was crumbling at the end of the 20th century due to humidity, wind and sand erosion, and salt infiltration. Though the mausoleums were listed on Pakistan’s register of national monuments, they had in fact been damaged further by previous repair efforts, which relied heavily on inappropriate materials, such as cement. For many years, a national preservation organization known as the Conservation and Rehabilitation Center (CRC) had been advocating for the site; in 1999, they brought international conservators and city officials together to plan the future of the tombs. WMF placed Uch Monument Complex on the Watch in 1998, 2000, and 2002, to raise awareness for the site and generate support for the CRC projects. WMF obtained grants to conserve the three main structures—Bibi Jawandi, Baha-ul Halim, and Ustad Nuria—as well as the mosque of Jalaluddin (Surkh) Bukhar.
The territory of Uch—city of Alexander the Great, capital of the Delhi Sultanate, medieval bastion of Islamic culture and learning—now attracts thousands of visitors and religious worshippers to its 15th and 16th century mausoleums. The domed, polygonal buildings are majestic in their ruined state: half-arches rise to meet empty air and missing finishes expose the solid ceramic core. The cerulean blues and luminous whites of the tile-work contrast dramatically with the sandy desert backdrop, all encircled at some distance by a green wood of palm and mango trees. These monuments are stunning examples of Indus Valley architecture and demonstrate the influence of Mughal design at the time of their construction. The Uch Monument Complex testifies to Pakistan’s Islamic legacy; the mosques, graves, and mausoleums’ preservation allow visitors to the site to appreciate the delicate beauty, historic significance, and symbolic power of these architectural treasures.