Peshawar: Ground subsidence is causing steady damage to architectural heritage in the old city of Peshawar, leading to cracks and sudden collapse of old structures, say archeologists tasked with preservation of heritage buildings.

Nawaz-ud-Din, spokesperson and gallery assistant at the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums Khyber Pakhtunkhwa told News Lens Pakistan that gradual sinking and settling of the earth surface with the passage of time was of immense concern to archaeologists in view of the damage they caused to architectural heritage of the city. Peshawar, once the capital of the ancient Buddhist Gandhara civilization, is home to old structures like the Gor Kathri featuring on the UNESCO heritage trail.

“Recently a tree and couple of houses near Gor Khatri collapsed because a nearby tube well that sucks a large amount of water daily from earth is causing the earth to settle,” said Nawaz-ud-Din.

Many buildings have collapsed due earth settlement. :Photo by News Lens Pakistan/
Many buildings have collapsed due to earth settlement. : Photo by News Lens Pakistan/

The narrow lanes and vibrant bazaars of Peshawar are peppered with archeological heritage, providing a window on the ancient pact of the city. Peshawar, like Lahore and Delhi (India), was once a walled city with 16 gates. The buildings in inner city are typically three or four-storied, with shops below. Streets are narrow and the protruding balconies from buildings on either side, hemmed in together with no space in between, appear to converge above the streets.

Over the centuries, Peshawar has come under the rule of Kushan Dynasty, the Mughals, the Sikhs and the British giving it a unique architecture, historical tradition and culture.

Being among the ancient cities of the region between Central and South Asia, Peshawar has also remained a centre of trade between Bactria, South Asia, and Central Asia.

While Peshawar’s old buildings hold a rich history, say residents of old city, presently these structures paint a picture of criminal neglect. While some ancient buildings are threatened by erosion due to elements and age, others are being torn down in view of rapid urbanization and lack of care.

“Most of the walled city structures are fading with every passing day,” said Khursheed Paracha who has lived in the walled city for decades.

A dilapidated building in walled city Peshawar | Photo by News Lens Pakistan.
A dilapidated building in walled city Peshawar | Photo by News Lens Pakistan.

The city currently remains an urbanized cluster with overwhelming civic issues.  A visit through the labyrinthine streets of the old city reveals that the old buildings are in a dilapidated state. Many historical buildings are falling apart due to lack of maintenance.

Three crumbling houses suddenly fell down on September 3, 2016, at Shadi Pir Chowk in inner city, resulting in injuries to residents and loss of property.

Paracha said many houses had developed cracks in structures. Since most of the houses in the city are appended to each other, he said, if one building collapses, other connected buildings are also damaged or weakened.

Paracha said owners in order to avoid such rick, have demolished hundreds of old buildings and constructed ‘secure and modern’ ones instead. The trend continues and such sights are sadly not uncommon throughout the city.

“Very few people have preserved their old property in the original condition,” Paracha added.

A recently built new commercial building made of concrete in inner city built after demolishing the old one. :Photo by News Lens Pakistan/
A recently built new commercial building made of concrete in inner city built after demolishing the old one. :Photo by News Lens Pakistan/

Fareed Shah, another resident of the walled city, said another threat to historical buildings was that people were tearing down old properties to build commercial markets because they are more ‘profitable’ than old buildings.

“All this is due to lack of awareness about history and heritage among the people and negligence on part of authorities towards archeological heritage,” said Shah.

Nawaz –ud-Din, spokesperson for the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said that the department had initiated the “Walled City Project” to preserve the historical structures within the circle of walled city. The project, with a funding of Rs.200 million allocated by the Khyber Pakhtunkwa government, involves a comprehensive survey of threatened and dilapidated buildings in the walled city for preservation under the project.

However, the survey initiated under the project four months ago may take up to three years to complete, said Nawaz-ud-din.

Under the project, said Nawaz-ud-Din, all buildings that are a 100 or more years old with some historical and cultural significance would be preserved.

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