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Qutb Shahi Royal Tomb Complex: A Necropolis Steeped In Heritage And Sustainability

Qutb Shahi Royal Tomb Complex: A Necropolis Steeped In Heritage And Sustainability
Missing portion of a medallion at Hakim's tomb restored by mastercraftsmen. Credit: AKDN / Narendra Swain,
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An integrated conservation and landscape restoration project at the Quli Qutb Shah Tomb complex in Hyderabad by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture hopes to merge responsible heritage conservation with sustainability

Mallika Bhagat
September 22 , 2022
04 Min Read

Restoring the necropolis of the Qutb Shahi dynasty of Golkonda, which ruled the region from 1518 to 1687, is an arduous task, one that has been in the works at the expert hands of Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC). For ten years now, integrated conservation and landscape restoration project at the Quli Qutb Shah Tomb complex in Hyderabad has been underway, which hopes to put this once-decrepit site on the world map, especially after its nomination to the Unesco’s World Heritage List. 

Restoration of ribs on the dome of Abdullah Qutb Shah's mausoleum. Credit: AKDN / Lipi Bharadwaj

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A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the Quli Qutb Shah Tomb complex project was signed in 2013 by the Andhra Pradesh State Department of Archaeology and Museums, the Quli Qutb Shah Urban Development Authority and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and Aga Khan Foundation. The aim- is to make this oft-ignored landmark a sustainable social and ecological gateway to the dynasty’s long association with the city they founded. 

A Sustainable Conservation Process  

Master artisans can be seen at work at the site, chipping away years of neglect, using traditional tools, building techniques and materials respecting the original builders’ intention and India’s craft traditions. The 106-acre area is being redeveloped as an archaeological park, which houses 80 structures, encompassing 40 mausoleums, 23 mosques, seven stepwells/water structures, a hamam (mortuary bath), pavilions, garden structures and enclosure walls. 

Craftsmen restoring lime stucco details on Abdullah Qutb Shah's mausoleum

The monument has immense value to the state and the city’s historical richness and sees many visitors yearly. “To ensure continued public access to large parts of the site, it was agreed from the onset that AKTC will undertake conservation and landscape works in three phases. Phase 1, now completed, has included emergency repair works on structures such as the Badi Baoli and Fatima’s Tomb and conservation works on structures standing in the southwest quadrant, from the grand mausoleum of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah onwards,” says Ratish Nanda, conservation architect and CEO of Agha Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) India.

Sustainable restoration is at the heart of this endeavour. It is not just the structures in the complex that are being restored; the entire area is being developed as an ecological zone, with a significant portion of the site being dedicated to plantations of native trees. The Quli Qutb Shah complex also houses six 16th-century step wells or baolis, created initially to irrigate the adjacent orchards. These are being restored today with a dual purpose - to protect their heritage value and make the archaeological park sustainable for its water needs. 

The baolis at the complex are being restored sustainably

“The restoration of historic orchards with plant species described in contemporary 16th-century texts was critical. For that, the conservation of the baolis allowed them to, once again, serve the function they were built for. The stepwells now collect 20 million litres of rainwater, making it possible to irrigate the restored orchards and the forests planted at the site’s northern, southern and western edges. The restoration of the stepwells and accompanying landscape works has made the necropolis at Golconda self-sufficient for water needs for the 15000 tree saplings planted here,” Nanda explains.

The Badi Baoli being restored. Credit: AKTC

Situated adjacent to the Golconda Fort, another contribution of the Qutb Shahi dynasty to India’s varied heritage, the complex is also a fertile bed for unearthing the architectural know-how of that time. “At the mausoleum of the first king, Sultan Quli Qutb Shah, archival images revealed intricate stucco ornamentations and remnants of this were discovered on the careful removal of 20th-century cement layers, thus allowing restoration to the full extent to reveal the grandeur of the structure. We have collected over 500 images- some dating back to the 1860s,” Nanda adds. 

Through the restoration of Qutb Shahi Tombs, home to the memories and remains of six rulers of the same dynasty, the state government and AKTC aim to add another significant landmark to Hyderabad’s historical legacy. For both visitors and residents alike. Whether the restoration will allow this necropolis to claim a spot on the World Heritage List remains to be seen. 


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