Masjid Wazir Khan

The Reach of an Empire

Employing a policy of tolerance and inclusion, Mughal kings assembled nobles and artists into the royal court from areas throughout the expanding empire, such as Persia, Central Asia, and India. The resulting fusion of cultural and religious influences, visually expressed in Mughal art and architecture, demonstrated the reach and power of the empire.

Emperor Shah Jahan was one of the greatest patrons of Mughal architecture and left a legacy of many structures throughout India and Pakistan, most notably the Taj Mahal. Of all the monuments he commissioned, the Wazir Khan Mosque stands apart in the sheer scale of its decorative features, which display the sublime artistic skill of the period and the diversity of its cultural influences.

Teams of master artists from throughout the empire, utilizing the artistic techniques and decorative motifs of their homelands, adorned this imperial mosque with a dazzling array of colors. Deep red tazakari (incised faux brickwork) envelops panels of lustrous kashi kari (glazed tile work) and vibrant naqqashi (frescos), which depict intricate scripts, geometric designs, and an abundance of blooming flowers.

The mosque’s architectural elements also synthesize far-flung regional styles. The front face of the complex consists of the central iwan (entrance façade) and the Chahar Taq (the entrance building) flanked by corridors of shops. The incorporation of a bazaar into the mosque complex is a feature of Central Asian architecture, while the form of the Chahar Taq is a Persian element. Projecting from the iwan are two balconies that represent a local, Lahori influence which was equally assimilated into the Mughal style.

The Empire’s Appropriation of Lahore

The choice of site for the Wazir Khan Mosque further emphasized the power of the Mughal Empire. An ancient and important city, and capital of a series of previous regimes, Lahore surrendered to Mughal forces in 1588, becoming an imperial seat. Each Mughal ruler physically manifested his claim to the city and its long history through a monumental building program.

A stopping place for nobles traveling to their residence at the Lahore Fort, the Wazir Khan Mosque served only the emperor and his retinue. Constructed on an earlier religious site, the mosque integrated three tombs of Sufi saints into its courtyard. By appropriating the Lahori site, the emperor associated himself with the Sufi saints, absorbing their religious ideals into the Empire in much the same way that regional artistic traditions were folded into the Mughal style.

The segregation of the mosque for the elite did not last. In 1671, when the larger Badshahi Mosque was built closer to the royal palace, the Wazir Khan Mosque lost its imperial status. The royally adorned building, once an exclusive space for the king, opened to the community and continues today as a place for the public to worship.


Four hundred years since its construction, the Wazir Khan Mosque is integrated into the contemporary landscape and daily life. The mosque is open to the public for daily observance and, as in ancient times, is the site of a bustling market. Urban encroachment challenges conservation, however. Houses lean against the outer walls, which are also used to anchor laundry lines. Inadequate infrastructure for sewage and rain drainage exposes the mosque’s walls to water damage, causing frescos to crumble. In addition, natural forces threaten the mosque. Its four minarets lean outward and a number of domes and walls are cracked, damage likely sustained from the earthquakes the region suffers. Sun exposure degrades the glazed tile work and fades the vibrant color of the brickwork.

Plans for an extensive preservation project are currently underway. The partnership between CyArk and the Lahore University of Management Sciences contributed to this effort by producing the first full documentation of the site.

Sharing Technology

Current efforts to conserve the Wazir Khan Mosque include utilization of advanced technology to aid documentation, planning, and monitoring. Funded by USAID and in partnership with CyArk, the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) established a technology center with an initial goal to document six historic sites in Pakistan. Beginning at the Wazir Khan Mosque, CyArk staff trained LUMS students in techniques of field scanning, data processing, and 3D modeling. This gave students and conservators the opportunity to learn new technologies using real-world data while participating in the long-term conservation of the mosque. The resulting documentation precisely measures current conditions – the extent of the loss of frescos, cracking of walls, and tilting of minarets – providing a baseline against which changes in conditions can be monitored and plans for preservation or restoration can be made.


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