Pakistan is a country strategically located on the crossroads of South Asia abundantly rich in history, archaeological remains, natural beauty, cultural diversity, manmade landmarks, and in architectural heritage. It is a cradle of ancient civilization hosting the most significant centers of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), Gandhara Civilization, and Mughal Heritage. Six of these sites of cultural or natural significance make up to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites of Pakistan.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites are the natural and cultural properties that are considered to be of outstanding universal importance and deserve conservation. These sites are unique for their respective historic value and well-planned construction. Some of the World Heritage Sites in Pakistan inherit about 5000 years of history and boasting of their legacy today.
Tentative sites in Pakistan
There are 26 additional important heritage and natural sites lined up in the inventory of tentative sites list. Eight of the total sites have recently been approved to be added up to the list of already existing six sites that include: the Derawar Fort in the Cholistan, Hingol Cultural Landscape in Balochistan, Nagarparkar Cultural Landscape in Sindh, Central Karakoram National Park and Deosai National Park in Gilgit-Baltistan, Ziarat Juniper Forest and Karez System Cultural Landscape in Balochistan, and the Khewra Salt Mines in Punjab.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Pakistan
The 5000 years old city of Mohenjo-Daro (also spelled Mohenjodaro or Moenjodaro) was only unearthed in 1922. The city of Mohenjo-Daro is a metropolis of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) dating back to around 3rd millennium B.C. The magnificent site is located on the right bank of River Indus in Larkana District of Sindh in Pakistan. The whole city, from what the construction system indicates, was laid out following strict rules which also shows evidence of an early system of town planning.
Excavation at the site was carried out between 1930 and 1965. Only one-third of the city has yet been said to have discovered. The entire city was built of unbaked brick and gradually deteriorating due to material decay, moisture infiltration, poor drainage, and salt action. The government of Pakistan, in collaboration with UNESCO, is working to better conserve the site. Moenjodaro was included in the list of World Heritage Sites of Pakistan in 1980.
Takht-i-Bahi literally means spring throne in Persian. Sahr-i-Bahlol is a small fortified city located about 5 km from Takht-i-Bahi. Stretched on a crest of hilltops with altitude ranging between 36 meters and 152 meters, the early 1st century Buddhist monastic complex of Takht-i-Bahi and the neighboring city remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol are the imposing relics of Buddhism in the Gandhara region of Pakistan. Takht-i-Bahi and Sahr-i-Bahlol are in fact two different sites inscribed in the world heritage sites of Pakistan in 1980.
The ruins of Takht-tBahi and Sahr-i-Bahlol are located some 16 km from Mardan city, 78 km from Peshawar, and about 170 km from the capital city of Islamabad. Owing to its location and altitude the complex of Takht-i-Bahi escaped successive invasions and is still very well preserved. Sahr-i-Bahlol, however, is exposed to damage from local visitors digging for relics and antiquates.
The main Takht-e-Bahi site consists of four major sections including the Court of Stupas, a monastic complex, a temple complex, and a tantric monastic complex. The dates of these vary and add to the area’s cultural depth. The site is a perfect day excursion from Islamabad and Peshawar.
The Lahore Fort and Shalimar Gardens are two outstanding gifts from Mughal era dating back to 17th century. The two sites are located in Lahore about 7kms apart from each other. Both sites are exquisitely designed and constructed displaying the height of artistic skills at the time Emperor Shah Jahan’s rule.
The fort is located in the northwest corner of the walled city consists of marble palaces and mosques ornamented with mosaics. It was said to have been destroyed and rebuilt several times between the 13th and 15th centuries. The Shalimar Gardens, however, were constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1642 are a reflection of Persian and Islamic traditions. The gardens cover 16 hectares of land area.
Dating back to the 14th century the vast necropolis of Thatta city in Sindh province of Pakistan is home to around half a million tombs. The monuments are spread over an area of 9 km square considered to be the largest Muslim Necropolises in the world. The monuments and mausoleums are built from a high-quality material including stone, bricks, and enameled tiles reflecting the then Sindhi civilization.
The remnants at the site display a shining era of Sindh tradition during its golden time. Icons of the time including kings and queens, saints, scholars, and philosophers all are buried here. Some of the tombs of famous rulers and saints are still preserved representing Hindu, Mughal, and Islamic architecture. It was included in the world heritage sites in 1981.
Rohtas Fort or Qila Rohtas is an outstanding example of early Muslim architecture located 16km northwest of Jhelum city of Punjab in Pakistan. The fort is built strategically on a hilltop in a gorge with guarding view of surroundings. Its history dates back to 1541 when Sher Shah Suri (Lion King) of Suri dynasty ousted Emperor Humayun. The fortified complex was built to thwart the possible return of Humayun and the surrounding Ghakkhar tribe.
The main fortification of this massive fort extends to the 4km circumference of the robust wall with 68 bastions at an irregular distance for vigilance. It also has 12 main gates with specific purpose and name given to each gate. Inside the fortification are three deep wells (baolis) for self-sufficiency during wartime. There are other subsequent constructions including Haveli Maan Singh, the mosque, and Rani Mahal.
Although the fort was built according to the wishes of Sher Shah Suri; the Lion King died before it was completed. Humayun returned after the death of Sher Shah but the fort was not used for the purpose it was built. The name Rohtas, though, is derived from Rohtasgarh, the site of Sher Shah’s victory in 1539 over a Hindu ruler in India. It was included in the world heritage site in 1997.
Taxila is a significant archaeological site located about 35km north of Rawalpindi/Islamabad. The city of Taxila has been an important center of learning, the core of Buddhism, an urban metropolis, and a melting pot of ancient civilization. It was discovered in the late 1800s.
The city is situated strategically on a branch of Silk Road that linked China to the West. The history of the city dates back to the Gandhara period containing ruins of Taksasila. It was a major Hindu and Buddhist center. Taxila illustrates the stages of development of a city alternately influenced by Persia, Greece, and Central Asia from 5th century BC to 2nd century A.D. The city reached its apex between the 1st and 5th centuries. It was destroyed by White Huns in the 5th century.
There are about 50 sites within a radius of 30 km. Most of the archaeological sites of the city are located around the rich Taxila museum. Major sites include Dharmarajika, Sirkap, Julian, and Mohra Muradu. These sites are well maintained and frequently visited by local and foreign tourists. In 1980, Taxila was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.