Thatta was a decorum of enriched arts, culture and civilisation experienced and extended between the 14th and 17th centuries. The city, once filled with generous craftsmen, artisans, and philosophers, was designated as the cultural centre of Sindh and the capital of Multan under the crown of Isa Khan Tarkhan I. Thatta is pronounced as Regios Patala by the historians Alexander The Great, Pitasil of Hiun Tsang and Devalsindi of the Arabs. Alexander, mesmerised by Thatta’s trade and civilisation framework, transformed the city into a Port City, transformed as a hub of trade, culture, and civilisation exchange. Makli, located a mile from Thatta, and 100 Km East of Karachi from Karachi-Hyderabad Highway, reflects detailed and philosophical architecture studies and practices.  The city, once brimming with trade and commerce activities despite its decaying structures and non-functional roads, is hard to believe that Thatta’s Necropolis was once a reflection of the Arts and Learning Center.

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Makli Necropolis holding several monuments dated back between 14th and 18th century: _© – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Outstanding Universal Value of monuments in Makli dictated in UNESCO research papers represents the grand approach of its patrons towards death and destruction. The monuments in Makli represent the artistic and architectural achievements from the Samma Dynasty to the fall of the Mughal Empire. However, these monuments are in dire need of conservation and preservation and are facing multiple threats related to Vandalism and thievery. The environment impacted the fragile structures of Makli profusely, damaging the core of exposed mausoleums due to constant exposure to the salt breeze and the culmination of rainwater from the adjoining surfaces. 

The paper will shed light on the importance of this site, its grandeur of architecture and its unique use of material and construction techniques that display the intelligence and resilience of past nations. The history of Thatta had utter importance too, and aids in understanding the issues faced by the site both related to governance and the climate. Architecture and conservation practices that help preserve structures will be briefly discussed.

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Intricately carved sandstone pillars are supporting the roofs and creating the sense of corridors_© Aliraza manjothi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
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The Tomb of Isa Khan Tarkhan II is one of the beautifully decorated and embellished monument of Makli Necropolis_© A.Savin – Own work, FAL,
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Jam Nizamudin II Tombs is embellished with Jharoka done and designed in Gujarati Style_© Syed HussainHyder Zaidi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

‘’ Makli- The jewel of Sindh, was once a resplendent city now stands in dire need of preservation.’’

Historical Significance of Thatta for the Development of Makli Necropolis

Thatta had a traceable history of prehistoric settlements and the city was developed by the progressive schemes of Alexander in 325 B.C. The city was ruled and ruined by multiple dynasties, from the Samma dynasty to the Mughal Empire. Trade networks and civilisation became a reason for Thatta’s historic mention as Pitasil of Hiun Tsang and Regios Patala by the historians of Alexander, Ameer Khsuro’s poetry and verses celebrate the unmatchable beauty of Thatta. The current situation however does not allow anyone to believe it was an epic centre of learning arts, culture, poetry, literature, philosophy and architecture. 

The city was more progressive than other cities of the region due to their high-value educational and well-established economic institutes. The influx of Iranian scholars and philosophers in Thatta was by the presence of Madrassas (colleges) and libraries under the patronage of Sultan Nizamuddin which his successors continued by the Arghun Dynasty till the Last Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah who before surrendering the control to Nadir Shah of Iran. 

Trade routes and activities ascended rapidly under the Mughal Raj. Muhammad Akbar gave provincial autonomy to Thatta. It was declared the capital of Multan, however, the governorship was maintained by the Tarkhan family who had witnessed the Sack of Thatta in 1557 under the rule of Isa Khan Tarkhan I. The historic plunder by the Portuguese soldiers affected the trade and educational development of the region. The Portuguese colonial campaign was so intense in Thatta that the soldiers ransacked everything from libraries to houses, ports to education institutes, acquiring a hefty booty of 2,000,000 gold coins, on both sides of the river Indus. It resulted from the Civil warfare immigrating in the reign of Isa Khan Tarkhan I. The resilience of Thatta’s natives kept the governorship intact until it was annexed by the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great.

The impact of three successive dynasties and the state-of-the-art trade and learning centre is visible in the unique architecture of Makli Necropolis. The structures in Makli which is a Hill, 65 Km from Thatta and one of the largest graveyards consisting of monuments of Kings, Queens, Saints, Philosophers and Ministers, are the infusion of multiple influences into local style. The predominant architectural style is the hybrid of the Gujarat architecture of India and the Mughal design works including architectural elements such as cupolas, chattris, Persian domes, spandrels, lacework in stone, and arcades displaying independence from the imperial style of Delhi. The design principles are imitating three successive dynasties hence dividing the cemetery into three categories in inverse order: Mughal era, Arghun Dynasty and Samma Dynasty. 

Thatta was well-known among European and Asian traders, travellers and scholars, who referred to the region as ‘Eldorado’. it thrived due to its commercial, cultural and literary activities. The East India Company’s trade unions and Generals designated Thatta as one of the most prominent markets. Thatta was not alienated from urban design and spatial organisation, according to Captain Alexander Hamilton who visited the region in 1699, he defined Thatta as a densely populated and culturally rich city. The city’s architectural glory is evident in the structures of Makli’s graveyard, which UNESCO recognises for its Outstanding Universal Value. The cemetery features intricate stonework and well-constructed buildings made of the same material, adorned with glazed tiles in dark purple, light blue, and green chrome.

Outstanding Universal Value

The vast cemetery of Makli is among the largest in the world consisting of 500,000 to 1 million graves of kings, queens, saints, philosophers, ministers, educators and well-known personalities. The integrity of monuments is well-preserved, stating the political and social values of past eras. The site is declared a World Heritage Site due to its stonework and lavish decoration in the glazed tiles. The celebrated monuments constructed in stone are those of Jam Nizamuddin of the Samma Dynasty, Isa Khan Tarkhan I and Jan Baba of the Arghun Dynasty. Diwan Shurfa Khan’s monument captures kaleidoscopic tilework beauty celebrating amid the dry and harsh climate of Makli. The stone decoration was introduced in Makli’s architecture, imitating the glazed and colourful tilework inspired by and adapted from the terracotta work of Asian and Persian styles. The assemblage of these massive structures is grouped into three types of architectural styles inspired by multiple eras and constructed using local styles, among which many Indian Gujarati and Mughal styles also prevailed. Since the environment inspires architecture and displays the genius of the people, the structures in Makli are living proof, independent of the typical and imperialist style of Delhi, shining in its glory, grace, and cultural integrity.

Influence of Thatta on the architecture of Makli, Necropolis

Massive structures and monuments in Makli are laced with intricate stonework, glazed tiles and high-quality terracotta. This ornamentalism is adapted from Asian and Persian design themes and these are celebrated elements of Makli’s Necropolis design. Thatta termed as Regios Patala, was a connecting and commercial hub for the transition of trade and business. The area was named Patala due to its geographical boundaries, which were formed by the two banks of the Indus River, serving as natural limits to Thatta. Despite being a cultural centre, many scholars, craftsmen, artisans, and stonemasons sought opportunities for skill development in Thatta.

 The absence of intricate lacework and stone decoration would have made these buildings look boring. The bricks are of high-quality clay defined by the structure’s clean edges reflecting spectacular craftsmanship. The systematic use of glazed tiles embellished with floral patterns and hues such as dark purple and blue enhanced the visitor’s experience amid the dull and dry weather of Makli. The points discussed will provide details of inspirations taken from the cultural centre.

Genius in Design; The Materials, Techniques and Cultural Fusion in Makli’s Monuments

The genius of the designer of Makli monuments is reflected not only in square and octagonal planar design but also in the selection of materials and construction techniques. Jungshahi buff stone, which is a native material to Thatta, is used for the construction of stone buildings. The intricate tracery work and carvings done in the Jungshahi stone showed the conspicuous stone workmanship of the artisans oozing the aura of Gujarati style, India. The tracery work in stone found in Thatta has been described as the lacework in stone, aptly described by the use of lattices in reliefs and interlaced geometric patterns on the surfaces of graves and Arabic inscriptions on spandrels of arches and gateways are the groundwork of surface pattern design emanating from this region and the reflection of multiple cultures infused in Thatta. 

The intricate legacy of Makli: The evolution of Makli’s Funerary Architecture.

Octagonal pavilions, like the tombs of Mubarak Khan and sister of Fateh Khan, accompany the tombs from the 14th and 15th centuries. These pavilions are composed of pillars supporting canopies with corbelled domes (Chattris), the pillars and the lintels of pavilions are intricately decorated and richly carved. The structures in Makli are famous for their ornamental values and progressive transformation in architectural elements, for instance, the well-known structure of the Samma dynasty, the funeral site of Sultan Jam Nizamuddin Nindo is compared with Isa Khan Tarkhan’s II tomb constructed in 1644, a great evolution of balcony and terrace concept is observed. In Sultan Jam Nindo Tomb’s structure and the Madrassah of Hamad Jamil, the reliefs embraced the massive building imitating a false balcony. This structure was explored profusely at Isa Khan’s II burial site. The terrace is extended and is provided with pillars and arches to develop what is known as arcades. This architectural feature had roots in the Samma dynasty and was undoubtedly explored till Mughal imperialism.

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The intricate stone work in the form of Quranic verses and floral patterns on the grave of Saint in Makli_©

Surface Pattern Designs: Influence of Gujarat and Ahmedabad Craftsmanship

The precedence of surface pattern design and motifs prevailing in the region of Gujarat and Ahmedabad are found at the funerary sites of Jam Nizam-ud-din Nindo and the Madrasah pavilion of Sheikh Hamad Jamali, constructed in 1392 CE and 1508 CE. The presence of the Shahjahani Masjid in Thatta built during the reign of Shahjahan is an example of the transformation of this style, exhibiting from being regional inspired to becoming part of Mughal imperialist art. The lotuses, Quranic inscriptions and diamonds on the decorative bands running around the site of Jam Nindo’s tomb stated that craftsmen from Gujarat were responsible for such intricate work. 

The lotus flowers and half-palmettes were exhibited on the inner and outer walls of Jam Nindo’s tomb and in the Madrasah pavilion. The Sunflower motifs, including half sunflowers, and single, double, and triple-tiered medallions, were first seen in Sheikh Jamali’s Madrasah, carved in low and high reliefs. Archaeologists made an opinion that the rulers of the 14th and 15th centuries might have hired carvers from the states of Gujarat and Ahmedabad because this style and art were deeply rooted in these regions. According to William Dalrymple’s book The Golden Road the ancient trade route aided not only in the development of trade in Asian and European markets but also acted as a remarkable artery for the exchange of cultural practices, traditions, techniques, and values. Thatta was a crucial hub for trade and cultural exchange due to its accessibility via ancient routes and status as a port city.

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Intricately carved and decorative motifs are featured on many tombs_©DanishKausar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 CITATION Dan12 \l 2057  (- 2012)

The representation of pattern designs is done on the stone surface and illustrated in the glazed ceramic tiles. The dominant colours blue, dark purple and green were used for the combination. The earliest structure of such work in Makli is the funeral of Shehar Bano in 1542 CE. The structures also include examples of small and bold nashkhi calligraphy at Makli Hill, alongside thuluth inscriptions. Additionally, the interior and exterior surfaces are adorned with spoke wheel designs and David Stars which are filled with smaller David stars or floral patterns.

Makli has a rich array of surface designs, patterns, and motifs that enhance and elaborate its architectural splendour. This decoration reflects the influence of regional artistic traditions in the construction of Makli necropolis.

Delicate and sophisticated craftsmanship is visible on cenotaphs, Makli Necropolis. (2024, February 19). In Wikipedia_©, Necropolis

Damaging impacts on the Makli’s Structures

The present situation displays the damages caused by climate change, environmental impacts, surface erosion, thievery and vandalism. Although multiple research reports, methods, and professional approaches have opted for the delay in the implementation of conservation practices, constraints on public funding for such endeavours and the mishandling of old structures by unprofessional practices are pushing the heritage site of Makli to further distortion. The structures and funerary sites suffer from wall distortions and cracks caused by rough weathering and erosion of the ground and slope on which they stand.

The acceleration of organic growth and the mismanagement of rainwater contribute to the structure disruption in Makli being engrossed with salt deposits, it is due to the geographical location of the site and the high amount of salt in the air to which the monuments had continuous exposure all year long. The intensity of rain during the 2022 monsoon season in Pakistan proposed existential damage to the structures in combination with frequent ground movements. Rafia Zakariya in Dawn mentioned the impacts these movements had on the growth of civilization, which often resulted in the demolition of structures, cyclonic storms, unprecedented rains and famine, hence making the space inhabitable and structures prone to damage and destruction.

Makli necropolis is prone to archaeological problems as well apart from being impacted by the environmental and climate changes. The archaeological problems revolve around pilferage and vandalism. These heinous acts are pre-partition practices and are usually carried by seasonal treasure hunters or souvenir seekers. A huge amount of high-quality material and an unguarded vast site are promoting the act of unauthorised selling. The range may include carved stone capitals, keystones, glazed tiles, terracotta bricks, and decorative stones, which can be modified to create new products.

The lucrative pursuit of treasure-hunting is becoming a menace to the structural integrity of monuments because of the resale of many pieces of monuments from the site. These pieces are bought and sold nationally and internationally in the commercial markets. Inferior material selection and unprofessional handling of fragile structures, lead towards loss of sophisticated architectural details.

Conclusion and a way forwardThatta was a decorum of enriched arts, culture and civilisation experienced and extended between the 14th and 17th centuries.

According to UNESCO’s outstanding universal value, the site was declared a World Heritage site in 1981 due to its ornamental values and structural sophistication capturing the architectural hierarchy of three dynasties. Despite its grandeur, the site faced imminent threats such as salt and sulphate attacks and climatic changes, it is imperative to prevent structural loss and construction damage through practical practices. The management of glazed tiles and the reinsertion of stones is to be done through authentic conservation studios.  A multifaceted approach is imperative to ensure the integrity of this invaluable structure, using modern archaeological practices, community engagement and sustainable management practices as tools to prevent further destruction.

Conservation Challenges with the Proposed Solutions

Mitigation of Environmental Impact

Salt and Moisture Absorption:  Salt and Moisture absorption in structures of Makli due to constant exposure to the salt-laden air can be mitigated using desalination techniques and protective coatings to prevent structural damage.

Rainwater management: The accumulation of rainwater is to be avoided around the peripheries of the site and on the verticals through proper water installation systems or removing it using dry brushes. This includes guiding the water away from the foundations of monuments and utilising water-resistant materials for the groundwater.

Conservation of Material and Structural Integrity

 Authentic Techniques and Reinforcement of Fragile Structures: Geopolymers are gaining strength for decaying structures without compromising the original appearance of the facade or architectural details. Another technology is the Ground-penetrating radar, a non-invasive method that can be used to analyse internal damage.

The restoration material of the heritage structure or site should be consistent with the original material, which is possible through detailed research work and analysis of the existing structure. This step should guide the selection of appropriate materials, such as Jhungshahi stone in the restoration of Makli.

 Protection for Theft and Vandalism

Legal Framework and Enforcement against Theft: The loss of heritage pieces and original detail work can be overcome by strengthening legal enforcement and law against the illegal trade and selling of artefacts. International cooperation and conservation bodies can be involved as a committee to tackle this menace.

Improving Security Measures: Site security can be enhanced through patrolling guards, and surveillance systems, which can deter vandalism and theft by demarcating the boundary. Community vigilance plays a vital role in handling social crimes by terming the community as the guardian of Makli.

Education and Engaging Communal Environment: 

Awareness Programmes and Training Local Community: The local artisans and craftsmen can be trained to maintain and conserve the heritage site relevant to international practices, this aids in creating job opportunities and a sense of responsibility and pride towards its preservation. Conservation programmes and heritage walks should become part of academia. Schools, communities and journalism are tools for awareness about heritage structures and cultural integration. 

Continuous Monitoring and Research Centre

An authentic conservation and research centre should be established in or around the site’s peripheries. This step would aid in recording the imminent structural challenges and navigating criminal activities related to vandalism and pilferage. The research facility will enhance the documentation of its conditions and timely interventions and facilitate the continuous study of the structures. Modern technologies, such as 3D scanning and digital modelling, will help structural changes in the building and planning restoration.

Makli necropolis holds the utmost importance for architects, conservationists and the native community due to its scale, ornamentalism and delightful architecture. It is, no doubt, the world’s largest funerary ground consisting of graves of Kings, Queens, Saints and Philosophers binding the architectural marvel of three vast dynasties. The imminent and serious challenges encountered in Makli related to thievery and vandalism can be overcome by strengthening the security apparatus around the site and implementing internationally recognised practices for restoration. Though Makli was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1981, it is the communal responsibility to maintain structural integrity and international recognition by overcoming environmental and archaeological challenges. This process will ensure that future generations can appreciate and learn from the rich legacy of this historic site.

Reference list:

Centre, U.W.H. (n.d.). Historical Monuments at Makli, Thatta. [online] UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Available at:

Nadiem, I.H. (2000). Makli. Sang-E-Meel Publication.

Naqoosh-e-Javidan. (2023). Diwan Shurafa Khan. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2024].

Pakistan, G. of (2013). Tomb of Jam Nizamuddin at Makli Hills. [online] Department of Archeology and Museums. Available at: [Accessed 29 May 2024].

Qasim, Q. (2014). Makli Monuments in Thatta. [online] Journal of Research in Architecture and Planning, Karachi: Sindh: NED University, p.13. Available at: [Accessed 26 May 2024].

Wikipedia. (2022). Regio Patalis. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 May 2024].