Amritsar is one of the largest cities in the Punjab state in India. It is located about 465 km from New Delhi, near the international borderline with Pakistan in the north-western portion. It has developed on both sides of the grand trunk road and is divided into two sections, i.e. the walled city and later developments beyond the walls. It has good connectivity to the important cities in the region and serves as the largest grain and commodity trade market of Punjab.

The city is an important landmark when it comes to religious destinations, cultural heritage, national integrity of India and India’s struggle for independence from British rule in the early 20th century.

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Golden Temple Amritsar

Historical Significance

Amritsar has a rich historical and cultural lineage flowing in its veins. The city was founded in the late 16th century by Guru Ramdas Sahib, the fourth guru of the Sikhs. Major structures in these areas belong to these three periods:

  • Sikh Period
  • British Period
  • Post-independence Period

Harmandir Sahib gets more visitors than the Taj Mahal, crossing over 1 lakh visitors on weekdays alone. The temple is built on a 67-ft square of marble and is a two-storied structure. The top structure of the temple is covered with pure gold leaf, hence, the popular name, Golden Temple. The shrine is believed to be a true symbol of secularism with its four entrance doors, which signify that God exists everywhere and that no direction is purer than the other. It is an architectural splendor and showcases golden panels and a ‘dome’ crafted from 750 kg of gold. The inside of the temple is beautified with gold and marble works.

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Golden Temple

This bean-shaped town was most prone to attacks and there were frequent threats from the northern Afghans. Spread over 43 acres, Gobindhgar fort’s key purpose was to defend the city of Amritsar and Shri Harmandir sahib from invaders. Unlike other forts in the middle of ancient towns, this location of the fort outside the traditional walled city served as an invincible barrier to get to the pilgrim city. It was declared as a historical monument by the Government of Punjab under The Punjab Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, in 1964.

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Gobindgarh Fort

The British succeeded Amritsar in 1840 A.D. The years under British control witnessed the destruction of the city’s outer walls and the opening of windows, the development of the Town Hall from which the city of Amritsar was governed. The British rebaptized the Ram Bagh Garden as Company Bagh, too. The current building of the Railway Station, the post office and the Saragarhi Gurdwara Memorial were all erected during the British era.

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Gate and Wall around walled city‐depilated condition

Cultural and Economic Base

The notorious massacre of Jallianwala Bagh took place on 13 April 1919, leaving more than 300 innocent Indians dead. The fire of anger against the British rose over time, and eventually, it had to culminate in the tragic events of the partition. Also, Operation Bluestar, a military operation directed by then PM Indira Gandhi at the Golden Temple, triggered intense political reactions.

Today the city is a medley of vibrant colors and a spirited crowd beyond the face of tragic events. The 12 gates in the city wall are the entry points to a rich heritage zone composing of katas, courtyard houses, bustling bazaars. Lovely narrow lanes, positive vibes, beautiful phulkari dupattas, tiny restaurants with the most delectable kulchas and lassi, Amritsar is enamored of food and shopping. There is an entire market for street food in Amritsar (Redi Market near Crystal Chowk).

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Heritage Market of Amritsar

The city continues to be the leading center of trade and commerce. The trading sector employs 59 % of the workforce. The general market areas and areas of wholesale trading are both situated in the walled region. The walled town has around 23 bazaars, several of which were built during the Sikh era. Many of these bazaars feature the upper floor for residential use and ground floor for commercial use.

Architectural Style and Livability

The shifts in architectural styles of the various periods are evident. Earlier, the architecture was primarily inspired by the Rajasthan style, With lots of jharokhas, colorful motifs, and sculptures. Later on, with the arrival of Mughals, people started to use features such as domes and minarets. The British brought with them pediments, colonnaded verandas, and entrance porches.

The Khalsa College, designed by the famous architect Ram Singh, a resident of Amritsar, is the best example of indo-British architecture. He was a pioneer in the exquisite woodwork of Pinjara and the wood carvings of Amritsar, making them famous all over the world.

The city of Walled was planned on a human scale, i.e. a pedestrian city, almost 430 years ago. In many localities, most of the internal streets are narrow and acted as an important element of urban design thereby enhancing social interactions. The width of most of the medieval streets varies from 4 ft to 20 ft. They follow the grid-iron pattern.  Considering the compactness and character, it is feasible to cross the whole walled city region on foot within 20 minutes, from one end to the other.

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Partition Museum Amritsar

Urbanization and built heritage changes

Throughout the twentieth century, the rise of modernism and large-scale rebuilding prompted many cultures to provoke change by ignoring traditional structures, architectural methods, and materials in favor of a more modern approach. The walled portion of Amritsar in both the later times saw a variation in the usage of construction materials, craftsmanship abilities, and decorative elements. Earlier, the buildings show a highly decorated facade with features such as jharokhas, recessed arches, and chhatris. Building facades now seem to generally play with massing. The solids and voids used surprisingly give the building a different dimension. Different technologies rolled in as well and reinforced concrete took over the conventional brick houses.

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Walled City Amritsar (High rise buildings  with  narrow  zig  zag  lanes)

Though buildings were often remodeled or renovated in the 19th and 20th decades, the layout of the streets never changed. As a consequence, the cores of our cities, initially built for tourists and slow-moving animal driven vehicles, are now cramping and fracturing under the pressure of urban traffic.

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Traffic chaos near the ISBT in Amritsar

On the other hand, the urbanization process, under the pressure of growth, raises the occupancy rate and the land value. Commercial establishment speeds surpass residential conditions that cause the usage of the building to adapt. Replacing old buildings with new buildings has eroded the city’s social and cultural identity and eventually lack people’s sense of community.

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Mobility Plan for Amritsar City

Sneha Kannan, a young architect, Interior designer based in Chennai. Her work involves creating spaces with strong visual and social identity. As an architectural writer and graphic designer in practice, she believes graduation is just a start to life. Developing a strong interest in aesthetics and management, she is working her way towards becoming a multi-faceted individual.