Monday, October 26, 2020

Pomegranate and rose gardens to return to Qutb Shahi Tombs

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Hyderabad: At one point, over 400 years ago, Hyderabad was identified as a city of gardens. And believe it or not, but the Qutb Shahi tombs complex was also filled with pomegranate trees and rose gardens, which were an important feature of the royal necropolis and its landscape. And it is all set to once again become part of the heritage site.

Over the past few years, the Qutb Shahi Tombs Complex has witnessed a spectacular change thanks to the ongoing restoration of the edifices inside the royal necropolis. Just like the tombs itself, the pomegranate trees and rose gardens are also part of the complex, which adds to its beauty.

While the tombs and other structures have visibly been rid of harmful 20th century interventions like cement, a very important aspect that marks the heritage site’s aesthetics is also its landscape restoration, which has led to a remarkable change in terms of greenery.

During the ongoing restoration, a startling discovery made some years ago was the buried garden enclosure of Sultan Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of the Qutb Shahi or Golconda Dynasty. It was an important discovery as it revealed that the Qutb Shahi’s continued the Iranian tradition of enclosed walled garden mausoleums.

The tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, with the restored garden in front. By: Yunus Y. Lasania

Similarly, the tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, Hyderabad’s founder, also had a formal garden to its north. In fact, the garden of Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah’s tomb and the arcaded façade of the Hamam (Turkish bath) on the north are now nearing restoration.

The ongoing conservation effort is being undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Department of Heritage, Government of Telangana. The work will also entail conservation and restoration of not just the grand Qutub Shahi monuments, but also the original garden settings of the important monuments. 

Anyone who visits the tombs (whenever they reopen, as the complex has been shut since the lockdown) can now see the marked transformation of the monuments. Tons of cement have been cleared from domes (the structures are made of lime mortar), damaging layers of paint have been removed and the original material – stucco in lime mortar, was restored wherever it was found missing. 

Similarly, 20th century alterations are also being systematically removed – concrete fountains, parapet, Japanese style bridges – amongst them; while retaining at Qutb Shahi or even Salar Jung layers. It is said that first of a series of restoration work on the tombs began during the Premiership of Sir Salar Jung (1853-83), the First.

The work being undertaken is peer reviewed, and is on the lines of what the Aga Khan Trust for Culture has done with the Humayun’s Tomb and Sunder Nursery in New Delhi. 

“Here, the gardens are as important as the structures and inappropriate alterations to the garden with concrete lattice screens, bridges, wall, pathways and planting had disfigured the historic character of necropolis,” said an official from the AKTC. For the forthcoming World Heritage site nomination it is essential that inappropriate 20th century alterations in the gardens of the Qutb Shahi Heritage Park are systematically removed.

In fact, restoration of the gardens without damaging any archaeology has been a challenge and necessitated the landscape plans being altered over a dozen times – each time a new feature was revealed. Moreover, one of the biggest issues in the tombs complex has been its earth levels, which have been altered over the last few centuries. 

The removal of late 20th century cement concrete lattice screen parapet with its farmhouse type concrete light fixture and Japanese garden bridges has restored the character and tranquillity of this significant green space. The concrete fountains in the four corners of this space, which were nothing but modern 20th interventions that caused more problems have also been dismantled. 

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