The great Badshahi mosque, to the west of Lahore fort, was built in A.D. 1673-74 under the supervision of Aurangzeb’s foster-brother and Master of Ordnance, Fidai Khan Koka, and is the most important building of Aurangzeb’s reign. The rigid orthodoxy of this emperor combined with a certain secular exhaustion to deprive the latter part of the seventeenth century of any great distinction in the realm of architecture. More than one critic of that period has observed a lack of vitality, of the eager invention which enlivened the work of Akbar or the studied refinement of the age of Shahjahan. It must be confessed that there is about the Badshahi mosque an air of academic complacency and fulfilment that robs it of the interest of some earlier and indeed less perfect designs. But, with all this sense of aridity, the satisfying proportions of the prayer-chamber and the magnificence of the towering, swelling domes cannot be denied. If scarcely a work of genius, it is at least a monument of dignity and propriety.
The Badshahi mosque and its courtyard (530 feet square) are raised upon a platform which is approached from the east by a handsome flight of steps and an upstanding gateway of traditional Mughal type. This gateway, of red Mathura stone, has at each of its four corners a small square minaret with lotus-petals at the base, and a row of tiny pavilions, of the kind beloved by Shahjahan, breaks the otherwise rigid skyline. Painted floral panels, mostly of eighteenth and nineteenth century date, variegate the archway, the external niches, and the walls and roof of the passageway. As a whole, the structure is, however, a second-rate work in a familiar convention.
At the four corners of the courtyard are the tall octagonal towers to which reference has already been made, and four smaller minarets, also octagonal, are attached to the corners of the prayer-chamber. The latter has the usual high central arch, somewhat weakly cusped and with spidery floral inlay in the spandrels, flanked on each side by five smaller arches, and above, as a strengthening element in the design, rise three grand, bulbous marble domes, with bold basal constructions which, nevertheless, fall short of the exaggerated and grotesque forms of the following century. The red sandstone of the building is tricked out externally with unobtrusive lines and patterns in white marble inlay. Within, the main dome of the prayer-chamber is ornamented by a floral network in plaster-relief, and the walls and roof generally are painted, though little of the actual colouring is as old as the structure.
The Badshahi mosque was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1840, and the tops of the towers, paving and other details are modern. Between the courtyard and the fort is the contemporary Hazuri Bagh or walled garden which links the mosque with the fort through Aurangzeb’s gate and contains the remnant of a marble two-storey pavilion built by Ranjit Singh about 1818 with materials taken from Mughal structures. The upper storey of this pavilion was thrown down by an earthquake in 1932, but in spite of its improvised and fragmentary character the building is not without grace and charm.