The ancient city of saints, Multan is a wonder in itself. The city has continuously been inhabited for around 5,000 years and finds mentions in old Hindu mythology as well as in travelogues of Greek, Arab writers and explorers.
A location steeped in history and culture, not only has it survived for thousands of years but has also been a seat of power and a regional trade hub throughout the millennia. Located along the ancient trade route between Central Asia and the subcontinent, Multan is known to be the home of Sufi saints and their shrines which continue to attract devotees and visitors alike.
Mausoleums and tombs of saints such as Hazrat Bahauddin Zakariya and Shah Rukn-e-Alam have become a part of the city’s cultural landmarks. The old Multan was fortified and encircled by a wall called Faseel-e-Multan along with six gates to enter the city – Lohari Gate, Bohar Gate, Haram Gate, Pak Gate, Delhi Gate and the Dolat Gate.
Most of these gates still stand in Multan. Most of the city’s fortifications were destroyed during the Siege of Multan by the British forces in 1849. The city is rich in history but is also quite modern in terms of universities, colleges, food streets, shopping centres an airport, a cricket stadium with a team in the Pakistan Super League, and a thriving industry. Mangoes and textiles are major exports of the city.
Places worth a visit
Tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam
This mausoleum was built between 1320 and 1324 by Ghiyath Uddin Tughlaq, the founder of Tughlaq dynasty in India, in the pre-Mughal architectural style. Situated at the edge of what used to be the Multan Fort, the mausoleum is a three-tier structure, with two octagonal shapes and a dome.
The first tier, 15 meters in diameter, has four-feet thick walls and is supported by small minaret-shaped towers in each of its eight corners that narrow as they rise and surpass the height of the first tier. A second octagon rests upon the first octagon.
Looking up, one can see a 15-meter white dome, which is bewildering to look at. The architecture of the mausoleum is reflective of the Persian and Central Asian influence on Multan.
It is believed Ghiyath Uddin Tughlaq built this mausoleum to serve as his own tomb before he became the emperor in Delhi. Sheikh Rukn Uddin, the Sufi saint, was initially buried in the nearby shrine of Bahauddin Zakariya but this mausoleum was gifted by Tughlaq’s son Muhammad bin Tughlaq to the descendants of Rukn-e-Alam and the saint’s remains were interred in the shrine in 1330. The structure is among the most impressive shrines in the subcontinent and attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Mausoleum of Bahauddin Zakariya
Located roughly a hundred meters from Shah Rukne-Alam and at the northeastern edge of Multan Fort is the mausoleum of revered Sufi saint Bahauddin Zakariya, after whom the city’s largest Bahauddin Zakariya University in named. The shrine was built in 1262 before the death of the Sufi mystic at the end of 1262.
The Mausoleum is a square of 51 feet 9 inches (15.77 m). Above this is an octagon, about half the height of the square, which is surmounted by a hemispherical dome. A vast courtyard surrounds the shrine.
There once stood a mighty fort called Qilla Kohna at the sight of today’s Qasim Bagh near Lohari Gate. The original fort is estimated to have been built by Katoch dynasty circa 800-1000 BC. Its walls had a height between 40 and 70 feet and were two kilometres in circumference. The fort was mostly destroyed by the British forces in 1849.
Nigar Khana, also known as the house of art, is a popular tourist attraction. It is a marketplace for handicrafts, antiques, blue pottery and shawls. Located opposite the Shah Rukn-eAlam mausoleum, the domed structure is believed to have been built in 1720 as a barood khana (ammunition store) for the fort. The government converted the building into a souvenir shop in 1972.
Multan Clock Tower Not very far from Qasim Bagh and Shah Rukn-e-Alam stands the Multan Clock Tower, or the Ghanta Ghar, which was built between 1884 and 1888 during the British Raj. Initially, the building was used by municipal authorities. With a few minor replacements, the clock even today shows time with the utmost accuracy.
Vans Agnew’s monument
Vans Agnew was a British civil servant of the East India Company, whose murder in 1848 by the retainers of Dewan Mulraj led to the Second Sikh War and to the British annexation of Punjab. When the British took over Multan in 1849, they erected an elongated pole-like monument, in today’s Qasim Bagh, in Vans Agnew’s memory.
From traditional dishes to modern restaurants, there are a lot of food options to choose from in Multan. The foremost speciality is the famous Sohan Halwa, a solid sweet made of corn flour, sugar and milk. Other specialities include ‘Toshas’, a dessert like Gulab Jaman, Afghani kebab, nihari and qorma (chicken curry).