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Project Profile


2005 Award of Distinction

Mehrangarh Fort

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Project Title: Mehrangarh Fort

Location: Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

Size: 105,800 square metres

Cost: US$ 600,000

Responsible Party: H.H. Gaj Singh of Jodhpur

Heritage Architect: Kulbhushan Jain

Contractor: Project employed architects, master builders and craftsman directly

Date of Completion: December 2004


Founded in 1459, the city of Jodhpur dates to the time of King Rao Jodha, a Rathore chief claiming descent from Lord Rama, who moved his capital to Jodhpur from Mandor. Jodhpur is known as the eastern gateway to the Thar Desert and is surrounded by inhospitable scrubland and flat, rocky terrain, a landscape that contrasts dramatically with the city’s hills and water features. Mehrangarh Fort is the centrepiece of this landscape and an important landmark within the state of Rajasthan.

Building History

Designed as King Rao Jodha’s royal palace, Mehrangarh Fort dates to the founding year of the city of Jodhpur. The fort is a garh, a type of fortified palace complex enclosed by walls, and is situated on an isolated and prominent outcropping 122 metres above the surrounding sandy plain. The imposing walls around the fort vary from 6 to 36 metres in height and feature seven prominent gates, named to commemorate different victories. Jayapol Gate, for example, was built by Maharaja Man Singh to commemorate the defeat of the Jaipur and Bikaner armies, while Fattehpol Gate was built by Maharaja Ajit Singh to mark his triumph over the Mughals.

The fort complex is composed of palace buildings, temples, barracks, stables and gunpowder magazines. Over the fort’s long and complex history, successive rulers each built their own palaces within the fort, with newer buildings often added to older structures, creating a distinctive combination of designs for Rajput architecture — itself a fusion of Hindu and Mughal elements. All of the palaces in the complex are connected, both horizontally and vertically, in ways that emphasize a hierarchical relationship among ruling families and factions. Typically, the most important palaces were built above those of lesser significance.

Despite strong contrasts in scale and function, the overall sense conveyed by the fort’s built elements is one of harmony, based in large part on the common building vocabulary and material palette. All buildings are constructed in red sandstone and white limestone and possess intricately carved and highly ornamental facades, balconies and courtyards. The fort’s meandering streets connect the palaces and other residences, bazaars, community spaces and religious buildings and provide circulation within the interior of the fort. The fort’s design also reflects the inhabitants’ response to its arid site and the overriding need to collect and store water.

Resources for maintaining the fort dwindled following India’s independence in 1947. The fort was therefore neglected for several years and suffered from the accumulation of moisture and damage to the stone structures, as well as corrosion of steel and iron elements.

Project History

In 1972, the Maharaja of Jodhpur established the Mehrangarh Museum Trust to safeguard the fort. While presenting the history of the fort the museum helped to provide some protection for the complex. The Mehrangarh Museum Trust’s initial conservation efforts focused on preventing further deterioration of the fort. This effort encompassed not only the buildings, but also the rare and valuable objects within. Beginning in 1996, however, the trust adopted a more comprehensive approach, bringing both conservation and museum specialists into the overall project. The trust also initiated actions to make the property more accessible to visitors and to upgrade the museum and its interpretive programme.

Project Scope and Framework

The conservation project proposal, drafted in 1996, emphasized three distinct aims: to re-establish the historic character of the fort, to preserve the physical condition of the palace buildings, and to ensure the sustainability of the complex. The latter aim required enhancing the visitor experience by carrying out adaptive reuse, where suitable, while at the same time respecting the special quality of the spaces within the fort.

The plan noted the history of the fort, its many additions and other changes over time, and the conservation effort extended to places of religious significance within the fort, with the aim of recapturing many of the intangible qualities of religious observance that were once part of the fort’s everyday life. To this end, the project reintroduced religious festivals and enlisted community assistance in the revival of fading religious traditions and other cultural activities. The conservation process also endeavoured to reinforce the original meaning and value of each individual space. Throughout the project, the conservation team ensured that tourists and other visitors still had access to the property and that the visitor experience was minimally interrupted.

Conservation Methodology and Materials

The scope of the project and the sheer size of the fort required a multi-faceted approach. The conservation team hoped, through a methodical process, to slowly let the spaces “speak for themselves”. The team adopted the key principle of minimal intervention. This meant that it made no major alterations or additions to the buildings and did not implement any radical interventions or removals of historic additions. Recent additions that threatened the overall character or the fort were, however, marked for removal. This allowed for the exposure of original and historic elements and helped reveal the fort’s original plan, configuration and traces of traditional functions.

As an initial step in the conservation effort, the team investigated the original functions of each component, coupled with assessments for potential future uses, and made a thorough assessment of the damage from neglect, misuse and vandalism of each component of the fort and its setting. The findings of this assessment provided the basis for planning appropriate conservation actions. Areas in particularly poor condition, such as Chokelao Palace, became priority projects for the conservation work.

The conservation work proceeded section-by-section, while also carrying out emergency repairs as the need arose. Existing features in good condition were retained in situ. Where replacements were necessary, workers endeavoured to match new samples to existing features as closely as possible. The project employed materials in keeping with the historic character of the fort and its surroundings. Substitute materials were extracted from the site itself or were sourced to match. The red sandstone of the Jodhpur area was the primary building material, along with “fat lime”, a limestone with an off-white colour. The conservation team also placed emphasis on the correct manufacture of lime putty for the repairs. Workers transferred the lime, sand and water mixture from pit to pit to ensure proper hydration (slaking). In repairing flooring that had been damaged as a result of subsiding foundations, workers were careful to number each stone to ensure accurate reinstallation following excavation and reinforcement. This practice helped ensure the accuracy of the completed work, and further emphasized the historic character of the site.

In some instances, new materials were employed. Such materials included stainless steel rods, which were used to reinforce failing stone elements. This step was required for many of the stone arches, as well as for brackets and roofing slabs. Originally reinforced with iron pins, many of these elements had disintegrated due to loss and corrosion of the pins. This problem could be seen in failed arches, crumbling piers and torqued column supports. The installation of stainless steel rods provided the necessary support and allowed workers to retain many elements in place.

A major focus of the project was achieving structural stability for the fort. Chokelao Palace, structurally unsound when the project began, was a focal point in this process of structural reclamation. The upper part of this palace sits directly on a rock surface, while the lower portion rests on soil. Over time, much of the soil had eroded away and large cracks had formed in the palace’s foundation and flooring, leaving the palace walls in a perilous situation. To shore up the foundation, the construction crew opened up the foundation one segment at a time and excavated down to the bedrock and in-filled the trenches with rubble and lime grouting. For additional support, the work crew added a new retaining wall adjacent to the old wall, providing stability for the columns as well for the flooring of the area.

Important Issues

Moisture was a principal culprit in the deterioration of Mehrangarh Fort. Ground water and trapped rainwater had led to high levels of moisture within the walls, a condition that had led to both erosion of surfaces and the corrosion of iron reinforcements. The corrosion resulted in the expansion of the metal components, which then led to the spalling of wall surfaces and additional erosion. Limestone elements were particularly prone to the destructive effect of moisture, leading to a permanent condition of flaking and surface loss.

Leaking roofs were a particular problem. To address this, workers stripped roofs of their stone slabs, repaired framing and wooden ceilings, then reinstalled the roof covering, using traditional methods. They also added a waterproof layer of lime and ensured that edges were free of obstructions and that all joints were watertight. Ground water and rising damp required different solutions, including improvements to drainage, the redirection of rainwater and excavation of damp areas. Previously sealed sections were reopened to allow for better ventilation, and unused sections of the fort area were reassigned new uses to ensure daily occupation and exposure to dry air.

Project Sustainability and Viability

As part of the project the museum was upgraded, with the installation of new services and facilities to bring the property into conformity with modern standards and expectations. New visitor amenities installed included ramps for the physically impaired, an elevator, a restaurant and restroom facilities. A gift shop now occupies one of the previously sealed rooms. Visitors can today view permanent collections and temporary exhibitions housed within the historic rooms of the fort, accessing many sections that were previously out of bounds. To enhance the visitor experience, the museum staff also developed an audio tour that presents the historic importance of the fort and the museum collections and offers oral accounts of the fort’s history and folk music, which help to bring the fort to life for visitors. The increased number of visitors and revenue are expected to ensure the viability of the museum and the historic complex into the future.

Project Impact

The restoration of the fort has inspired a revival of fading traditions, including performing arts and traditional crafts, providing employment to thousands of local people. Mehrangar Fort now serves as a point of convergence for various aspects of social and cultural expression. The fort provides one of the largest open places in the region for public gatherings such as fairs and religious events. The conservation of the fort has also facilitated access to many temples and shrines that for many years had been hidden from view.

Mehrangar Fort’s restoration has had a tremendous impact on the local economy. The year following the completion of the project in 2004, more than half a million people from around the world visited Mehrangar Fort and had an opportunity to enjoy its architecture and its many treasures, while increasing trade for local businesses and sustaining local tourism operators.

Quote from the Project Team

“It is not only important to safeguard this more than 500-year old fort, but also to optimize its potential for the appreciation and joy of all people, national and international.”