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Project Profile


2006 Award of Distinction

Uch Monument

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Project TitleUch Monument Complex

LocationUch Sharif, Bahawalpur, Punjab, Pakistan

Size7,900 square metres

CostUS$ 85,613

Responsible PartyConservation and Rehabilitation Center

                                    National Engineering Services Pakistan

                                    Department of Archaeology and Monuments

Heritage ArchitectConservation and Rehabilitation Center

ContractorLocal contractors

Date of Completion2004 (submitted project phase)


The Uch Monument Complex, in the city of Uch, is a striking archaeological ensemble of mausoleums dating back to the fifteenth century, which are today in a state of partial ruin. Located at the edge of the Chalistan Desert in Pakistan, the ancient city of Uch is believed to have been founded by Alexander the Great during his expeditions into Central Asia. Originally established on the banks of the Indus River (the river later shifted its course), Uch grew to become an important port city and regional metropolitan centre between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries. Uch also served as a frontier town to stem the advance of Mongol invaders into the subcontinent. A sanctuary for Islamic scholars and holy men fleeing persecution from neighbouring caliphates, under Mughal rule Uch became renowned as a centre of religious learning and worship. Its remaining monuments, including tombs and Sufi shrines, bear testimony to a rich mélange of vernacular architecture with Mughal influences. 

Today, Uch retains its historic urban layout, which features 17 historic monuments nestled within a tightly knit residential fabric, with a winding traditional bazaar, a historic mela (fair) ground and medieval lanes. However, Uch suffers from the negative impacts of poverty, environmental degradation and poor municipal management, which have led to the loss of some components of the city’s ancient built heritage.  

The Uch Monument Complex is found at the western end of the city, at the edge of the historic mound upon which the present urban settlement is located. The complex houses three tombs, a shrine and mosque of the Sufi saint Jalal-ud-din Bukhari and some 1400 earthen grave mounds, and it continues to be used as a cemetery. The three mausoleums, along with buttressed fortifications, constitute the monumental remains of the complex. The site’s remarkable appearance and cultural significance attract both domestic and international visitors, including pilgrims.  

Flooding and rainfall have caused heavy erosion along the site’s western and southwestern edges. The monuments have been subjected to centuries of weathering and were severely damaged by floods, leading to their current state. In recognition of the site’s historical significance and its vulnerability, in 1998, 2000 and 2002 the World Monument Fund included the Uch Monument Complex on its Watch List of the World’s Most Endangered Sites. 

With legal protection under the Antiquities Act extending only to the three main mausoleums, and no provisions for controlling access to the overall site, prior to the conservation interventions the sprawling complex had become a playground for local children andthe haunt of local drug addicts and dealers. Custody of the site was complicated by the unclear roles of the Department of Archaeology and Museums and the Bukhari peers, the traditional custodians of the cemetery. 

Building History

The three tombs were built over a period of two centuries. Dating back to the fifteenth century, the oldest and most stunning one is the tomb of Bibi Jawandi, the great granddaughter of the saint Jahan-e-Jahan-gasht. A striking structure clad in alternating bands of blue, white and turquoise tiles and plaster, the tomb was partially washed away by a massive flood, creating its dramatic half-shell appearance. The tomb of Ustad Nuria was built between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and that of Baha-‘ul-Halim in the sixteenth century. 

The tombs were built on an octagonal plan and surmounted by domes and cupolas. The shells were constructed of fired brick and mud mortar with timber reinforcement, and clad with plaster and revetment in alternating bands. The glazed decorative bands consist of plain and patterned tiles, along with bricks, end plugs and mosaic pieces. 

The domes of the tombs of Bibi Jawandi and Baha-‘ul-Halim, together with a substantial part of their lower structures, were partially destroyed in the early nineteenth century. The dome of Ustad Nuria and the northern and northeastern portions of its lower structure were also lost. Following the loss of the domes, exposure of the buildings’ interior elements to rain caused further deterioration, primarily due to water seepage into the inner structure of the monuments. The moisture led to the erosion of mud mortar and gypsum, and spurred biological growth on the brick and glazed elements. The resultant weakening of the mud mortar subsequently led to weakening of the cohesion between bricks.  The major cause of deterioration of the monuments was found to be the movement of water through the built structure and the crystallization of the salts in the water.  

At the Bibi Jawandi tomb, tensile cracks were found along the width of the dome, along with areas of dislodged bricks on the interior. Ultrasonic and Schmidt hammer rebound tests showed that the compressive strength of the dome bricks was less than that of bricks in the wall, which exacerbated the structural condition of the dome. In addition, interior lime plaster had dislodged and timber elements had deteriorated due to ultra-violet radiation, rainwater and termite attack.

These weathering effects were compounded by damage or loss of most of the exterior weather proofing elements, such as coping tiles and glazed tiles in the upper register. The glaze on the tiles had worn away in some cases, while in many areas entire tiles had become dislodged, fallen or had been vandalized. This created a gap between the outer tile layer and the structural core, allowing for rainwater ingress. This led, in turn, to more dislodging of the tiles.

The topography of the site continues to be in constant flux with new graves being built on top of old ones. At the Ustad Nuria tomb, new graves had encroached onto the immediate perimeter of the monument. In the past, a gully running between the mausoleums of Bibi Jawandi and Baha-‘ul-Halim had directed rainwater down to the site’s western flank, but when a retaining wall was built along this edge in the late 1980s, the gully was filled in and drainage became an issue.  

Project History

Although listed on the national register of monuments, the tombs had fallen into a state of deterioration arising from the effects of floods, rainwater, salt and erosion. Through the efforts of a local conservation group, the Conservation and Rehabilitation Center, a comprehensive project was designed that aimed not only at restoring the monuments, but at environmental rehabilitation and heritage conservation of the historic city as a whole. The overall project called for educational and documentation activities including a complete topographic and land parcel database, improvement of housing and public health, and revitalization of aspects of the city’s traditional culture, through, for instance, upgrading the traditional bazaar and other important components of the city’s living heritage.  

As a first step, investigations were carried out on the monuments and the site context. These investigations built on tests that had been conducted previously, including those by international experts from institutions such as the Middle Eastern Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. Proposals for the conservation of the site were developed on this basis, with inputs from national and international experts in various fields. In 2000 an initial environmental and heritage conservation report was produced and donors were approached.  

After funding was secured, conservation activities were launched in late 2003. This first phase of work focused on essential emergency interventions to the site and consolidation of the most fragile parts of the monuments. Crack monitors were installed in order to monitor the structural condition, with weekly readings taken over a span of six months. 

In the spring of 2004 the work was stopped, however, due to concerns raised by the structural engineer about the validity of the earlier-designed interventions and the conservation plan. It was discovered that the condition of the site and the monuments had changed significantly since the 2000 survey, which had formed the basis for the original conservation design. Accordingly, it was decided that further investigations would be conducted and the conservation plan would be subsequently redesigned. 

A new round of intensive investigations was then carried out, along with further urgent repair measures for both the site and the monuments. The Geo-tech Division of the National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK) undertook geo-technical tests, materials analysis, environmental pollution studies and structural behaviour tests. 

Ultimately, these investigations helped to inform the updated conservation work, resulting in the adjustment of the conservation plan, by reducing interventions that were considered unnecessary or no longer relevant given the changed situation of the site. The tests allowed for the conservation decisions to be based on scientific evidence about the structural failures of the monuments, unlike the decisions taken in 2000, which had relied mainly on visual observations and measured drawings.

Project Scope and Framework 

The long-term objective of the project was to conserve the complex as an archaeological site with the monuments in their extant condition, as partial ruins. The decision was shaped by the fact that much of the historic fabric was missing and the documentary evidence needed for reconstruction was lacking, and because of the sheer evocative power of the ruins. In order to lengthen the life of the monuments, a customized approach was developed for each of the structures, depending on their different historical, technical and aesthetic aspects. During this initial phase, the interventions thus focused mainly on three key areas, in the following order of priority: to consolidate the structure, to drain rainwater from the perimeter of the monument footprints and horizontal surfaces, and to render impermeable all water absorbing surfaces.  

The early set of interventions carried out in autumn of 2003 included clearing away the debris from the vicinity and the roof of the Bibi Jawandi tomb and cleaning dust deposits from the interior. In terms of building monitoring, crack monitors were installed, temperature readings were taken, and wall inclinations were measured. Coping tiles were consolidated. Original materials such as plaster and timber were removed for analysis and identification, and replacement materials were commissioned. Interior joints were cleaned with brushes and repointed with a mud mortar that replicated the original, comprising a mixture of mud, cow dung and jute fibre. The process of developing this mud mortar involved several trials before finding the most suitable mix. After consultations with various experts, the method for repairing the dome of Bibi Jawandi was decided upon: using a mud grouting as similar to the original material as possible.

When works were halted in 2004, experts were called in to conduct new comprehensive surveys, building on and updating earlier investigative work. Following these tests, emergency measures were undertaken. Weep holes were created in the existing western retaining wall of the complex and cracks repaired. At the Bibi Jawandi tomb, dislodged tiles were consolidated and the gap between the outer decorated layers and the structural core was sealed to avoid future exposure of the core to rainwaterdue to the loss of the exterior tiles.  

Additional interventions were also identified for further implementation in subsequent phases. At the Bibi Jawandi, it was planned to undertake the consolidation of loose and falling elements. All major cracks and fissures would be grouted, especially in the dome. Detached pieces of interior plaster render would be consolidated by removal, cleaning and reattachment. On the interior, sacrificial clay plaster renders would be applied. Being more porous than the original plaster, they which would bear the brunt of the eroding action of water and salt. In addition, to prevent further water ingress, it was also planned to clean and point broken edges of the western masonry walls where the building is cut in half and to cover the edge of the dome with stainless steel. Glazed tiles and timber elements and architectural components such as upper towers, cupolas and buttresses would be restored. Inappropriate new materials such as cement render and mortar that had been applied on external surfaces in previous restoration work would be removed, while necessary new elements would be installed: drainage pipes, brick flooring and bricks to shore up the plinth. Similar repair and consolidation work was also conducted at the other two tombs, albeit with fewer interventions due to the less complex range of problems at those sites. At the larger scale of the overall complex, the revised conservation plan called forthe redesign of a new drainage system for the site and the construction of boundary walls to better control access. 

Conservation Methodology and Materials 

As noted above, the conservation activities were based on a rigorous, science-based process of investigation and testing. This helped to shape interventions that were sensitive to the original building design and present-day building condition. The approach was minimalist in scope, aimed at stabilization rather than wholesale reconstruction. 

The examinations started in 2000 with documentation of the existing physical state of the monuments. Measured drawings were prepared using the triangulation method, hand-drawn plans, elevations and sections were scanned, and vector drawings were made. The accuracy of these measurements was verified by overlaying the drawings with rectified photographs using rubber sheeting techniques. 

In order to better understand the stylistic aspects of the monuments and their historical and architectural value, a survey was undertaken of the architectural history of the region. A comparative study of 23 monumental complexes and 47 monuments in the Upper Sindh and Punjab area was undertaken, looking at a range of scales, from the urban context to architectural form to building elements (façade treatments, buttresses, cupolas, pinnacles, etc) and decorative details. It was found that the tombs in the Uch monument complex are specific to the lower Punjab region and there are only nine such examples in all of Pakistan.  

As part of the later round of investigations in 2004, laboratory tests were conducted to determine the composition and condition of the building materials. The tests aimed at determining the extent and causes of weathering at the tomb complex, with a particular emphasis on examining the structural behaviour of the monuments. In addition to the obvious areas of collapse and loss of building elements, more subtle changes in the monuments’ forms in terms of losses and additions were identified. Together, these investigations allowed for a thorough understanding of the types and degree of damage sustained by the monuments.  

Inappropriate additions that had been made as part of previous conservation work, such as cement renders, were removed, but additions that were found to be non-destructive, such as certain patches of brick repairs that were not disturbing the neighbouring original brickwork, were retained.  

Some of the building materials were found to be replaceable with modern-day equivalents.  For instance, the bricks being manufactured today in Uch were found to be similar to those used in the monument. Likewise the local clay was also found compatible with the original mud mortar. Specialists worked closely with local craftspeople to upgrade their skills to enable them to replicate the original mud mortar and other materials, and to meet the high quality standards required by the project. 

In some cases, however, sourcing the appropriate replacements proved to be challenging. The glazed tiles, for instance, were ordered three times and rejected each time as being not up to standard, due to the inability of modern-day tile makers to replicate the original cobalt glaze. As a consequence of such problems, the glazed elements and original lime plasters were deemed to be irreplaceable. While tests could identify the mineralogical composition of the materials, it was impossible to determine the proportions, firing rates and exact composition of pigments for the tiles. Likewise, gaps in knowledge about the additives and manufacturing procedures that had been used in plaster making in the past hampered the exact replication of the lime plasters.

Important Issues 

It was vital to find funding if the conservation work on this important heritage site was to proceed. The project was able to mobilize over US$ 200,000 in funding from public and private sector entities within Pakistan and abroad. In addition to support from the World Monuments Fund, funding was provided by the Syed Babar Ali Foundation, the Houbara Foundation and the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Pakistan. In-kind support was received in the form of professional services, which were rendered either gratis or on a subsidized basis. For instance, NESPAK made available its consultancy services free of charge. At the time of the project submission, additional funding was being mobilized as the conservation work advanced to the next phases. Fortunately, the cost of restoring the complex was reduced to a more manageable amount, compared to the initial estimates, following the comprehensive testing, which found that many of the initially proposed interventions were unnecessary.

Project Sustainability and Viability  

The sustainability of the use of the complex as both an archaeological site and a public cemetery was ensured through a combination of physical installations and social factors within the site itself and in its larger urban setting. For instance, retaining walls were designed with surface drains along the sides that will function both to reduce erosion and to define the boundary between the functioning graveyard and the monuments. Furthermore, a public walkway was installed to serve as the entrance to the site, which is a more convenient means for visitors to enter into the graveyard, while also controlling unnecessary access to the monuments.

In recognition of the importance of preserving not just the archaeological site, but also its surrounding historic urban area, the Uch Environmental Rehabilitation Unit (UERU) was established in 2000 to help mobilize Uch residents to improve the conditions of the historic city on a self-help basis. Comprising a group of local paraprofessionals, the UERU has been successful in organizing community members to undertake a range of projects at their own cost, including upgrading sewer lines and repairing over 1,000 houses in nine historic neighbourhoods. 

The respect for the complex as a living site of veneration and active local community involvement suggests that the monuments will continue to retain their significance not only in terms of heritage conservation but also in local community life. 

Project Impact 

The conservation of the Uch Monument Complex presents the region with an excellent example of collaboration between national and international organizations, commercial enterprises and non-profit institutes, and governments and local residents, under the constraint of high conservation expense and an uncertain socio-economic context. At the local level, the project has fostered an appreciation for the value of heritage. For instance, in sourcing materials for the restoration work among local providers and building the capacity of local craftspeople to replicate original materials, the project renewed recognition of the value of traditional building skills and craftsmanship. 

The multi-faceted investigations introduced state-of–the art scientific testing of heritage structures, which had hitherto not been commonly used in Pakistan or in the region. The experience generated by the project will help to set a standard for upgrading professional expertise in the care and conservation of the nation’s heritage and underscores the need for technical and research facilities to conduct similar surveys and analysis in the future.  

Quote from the Project Team

"Many people quite uninitiated in art or architectural appreciation expressed the desire to retain the characteristic “half mausoleum” that Bibi Jawandi represents. A sense of wonder, combined with the specific ambience of the site, is perhaps the strongest emotive reaction that the monuments engender. Experience generated by this project would help in upgrading professional expertise in the care and conservation of the nation’s heritage."