Construction of the Masti Gate of Lahore Fort has been attributed to the third Mughal ruler, Akbar, sometime around 1566, the same time that he was rebuilding Agra Fort. The gate is an impressive Akbari structure, and one of the few still standing in Lahore. Once inside the Masti Gate, a large expanse opens up before the Chihil Situn, an open multi-columned Hall of Public and Private Audience (Diwan-i Am o Khas). The open space in front of the hall reminds one today of a garden or park, but in Mughal times it was a parade ground and assembly space. As for the so-called Chihil Situn, it was poetically described as "...a garden, every pillar of which is like a green cypress tree // In the shade of which noble and plebian obtain repose". Professor Ebba Koch has recently compared the evolution of these buildings and spaces in Mughal cities in her article "Mughal Palace Gardens from Babur to Shah Jahan,"
If the walled city was the social and economic center of Lahore the fort was its dynastic and political center. The proximity of the fort and city should not mislead one about the sharp separation between them, created by moats and ramparts. Although the Delhi and Lahori gate bazaars were major processionals, the royal retinue most commonly entered via gates close to the fort. The walled city was the social center of Lahore and the center of its regional culture, but the fort was the political center of Lahore and at least at times the center of its imperial Mughal culture.
It is not until one moves behind the Diwan-i Am o Khas and adjacent buildings, that one enters the garden quadrangles of Lahore Fort. At first glance, these courtyards seem to represent yet another garden type. They have limited plantings, and one of them has no plants at all. Some are rectangular, while others have irregular dimensions. Spatial relationships among garden quadrangles are enigmatic, but also to the succession of Mughal and Sikh projects.
Professor Ebba Koch has rightly emphasized that garden courtyards lined the river–front side of Mughal ramparts. Although tightly aligned with one another, they continued Babur's earliest conception of the river-front garden strand at Agra. Mughal gardens were resituated, but not radically reconceived, within palace-fortresses beginning in Akbar's reign. This process culminated in sophistication during the mid-seventeenth century.
Unfortunately, no surviving Mughal texts document the development of garden quadrangles in Lahore Fort in a manner comparable with Ottoman palace records (cf. Necipoglu, 1991). Instead, there are only a handful of inscriptions, wall paintings, and textual references (Khan, 1993; Koch, 1983; Latif, 1892; Baqir, 1984).
As noted above, the gardens of Lahore Fort were rebuilt with every change in rule. The only quadrangle to survive in large measure is one that faces the Shish Mahal (Hall of Mirrors). Built during the reign of Shah Jahan, it is the most elaborate and beautiful Mughal courtyard in Lahore. It is a square enclosure, open to the sky.
Its floor is paved in grey, black, and yellow marble with a large shallow central basin—a circle set within a square. Small water jets punctuated the corners of the basin. A square platform stands in its middle, connected by a causeway to the southern side of the pool. The courtyard does not contain a single plant (aside from scores of truly "perennial" pietra dura flowers inlaid on its marble columns). The low walls that surround the Shish Mahal quadrangle today are not original, and their relationship with the courtyard to the east is ambiguous. Behind the Shish Mahal is a small mosque and ramp broad enough for elephants leading down to the Alamgiri gate.
Outside the large Alamgiri gate, which was built by Aurangzeb on the western side of the fort, stands a garden known today as the Hazuri Bagh. This Sikh-period garden was built in a space that was formerly a caravanserai between the fort and the Badshahi mosque (built by Aurangzeb in 1673). Although not a Mughal garden per se, the Hazuri Bagh reminds us that Ranjit Singh and other Sikhs had a deep appreciation for the Mughal garden tradition (if not for their marble structures).
Conservation Update: The Alamgiri gate used to be washed with lime every year, and as a result there was a thick layer of lime wash on its walls. Now these layers of lime have been removed and the gate is being replastered. In the case of the Masti gate on the eastern side, in preparation for paving the walkway, a layer of mud was removed; this action unearthed another level of walkway. Work has been temporarily halted to allow for further research.
A new apron has been added inside on the side of the Sikh period wall to block rising dampness. The deteriorated wooden roof of the rest house in the Shish Mahal Quadrangle has been replaced with a new one. Similarly, the roof of the Kharak Singh haveli has been replaced. The repair work on the Shish Mahal is now complete. New electrical wiring has been done throughout the gardens to improve the illumination of walkways and buildings.