General Post Office

Driving in the easterly direction, on the same side of the road as Tollinton Market, the slightly curving Upper Mall reveals a beautifully modulated facade, prominent because of its mellow, red brick Roman-arch arcading.

The General Post Office, with its commanding presence on the Mall is among the most important landmarks of the city. Its location at the corner of two major roads—the Upper Mall and Nabha Road (earlier Church Road)—has dictated its unusual trapezoidal 'V plan form. It is significant not only because of its special architectural character but also because of its key role in initiating Lahore's conservation movement and the rejuvenation of its British-period architecture.

A general post office, which has long since disappeared, was among the first British buildings to be built after the annexation of the Punjab. Of 1849 vintage, it was sited in an area close to Lahore Museum. The exact date of construction of the present GPO building has been difficult to determine. The Punjab Gazetteer of 1916 mentions 1905 as its date of construction, which would make it a worthy contemporary of Bhai Ram Singh's Punjab University Hall. But Dr. Saifur Rahman Dar, dates the building belonging to the mid 1890s.

The first British-period building in Lahore to be restored, GPO underscored the necessity of documentation and conservation of historic architecture in the city's downtown area. During the mid-1970s, the original brickwork of the GPO had been mutilated—the application of color crating having destroyed its original features, resulting in an anonymous and non-descript prospect.

An outbreak of fire in the early 1980s in one of structures in the compound spurred a debate within the Postal Department concerning its demolition, and the construction of a multistory building in place of the defaced historic structure. However, the Heritage Foundation became the catalyst for restoring the original historic building to its former glory. The refurbished building is the result of the close collaboration of Pakistan Post Office with the Heritage Foundation in order to rebuild the original features. Only one photograph of the building could be located, which, along with a few remnants of molded brick found in the rear of the building, formed the basis of the facade's rehabilitation.

The rhythm of repetitive Roman arch arcading on both the road and courtyard aspects lends the facade a graceful demeanor. The cadence to the centre of the Mall Road facade has been achieved due to a triangular pediment, while in the lower section of ground floor arches deep grooves dividing the masonry into sections gift it with an imitation of Georgian-style stone courses.

The facade on Nabha Road sports a deorhi or porch, which was probably a later addition. The centre of each face—the two long wings with the junction acting as the main entrance—has central, slightly jutting out sections surmounted by triangular pediments.

The corners and ends of the building are defined by octagonal towers which rise above the two-storey linear wings and are capped by cupolas. The main tower is located at the junction of the two wings and rises well above the corner towers as an enormous battered element. The tower is crowned by a large hemispherical dome, defined by buttress-like elements, it carries enormous clocks on four sides.

The ensemble with classical roots has been entirely refurbished, and is worth a visit. You can walk to the rear where a compatible new wing encloses the 'V shaped courtyard, providing a feeling of enclosure and protection from new buildings that have been constructed on the building's boundaries during the last couple of decades.

A place worth noticing in the vicinity is an Anglo-Mughal edifice, situated across Nabha Road (Church Road) from the GPO. This is Shah Chiragh Chambers which has recently been refurbished. The building is named after the celebrated saint Shah Chiragh, who lies buried on an eminence, at the rear of the chambers. Although taken up for restoration a decade and a half after the GPO, it is a worthy effort and a step in the right direction.

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