Built in the 1530’s, Sabz Burj is one the earliest Mughal era buildings in India.
Built in the 1530’s, Sabz Burj is one the earliest Mughal era buildings in India. The structure stands at a prominent location on the historic Grand Trunk Road and within the Humayun’s Tomb - Nizamuddin Basti Heritage zone. Built as a mausoleum, Sabz Burj would also have stood within an enclosed garden.
The dome was re-clad with tiles in the 1980’s and since then Sabz Burj had suffered from water seepage, loss of incised plaster patterns and tiles from the drum, as well as severe structural deterioration. Conservation works here have revealed intricate, complex ornamentation and even the use of gold, indicating the stature of the person buried here.
In the 20th century, Sabz Burj was used as a police station. Such misuse coupled with the use of cement led to significant deterioration, resulting in the structure’s ruinous condition in the 21st century. Since 2017, an exhaustive conservation effort has been undertaken here. Master craftsmen – tile makers, masons, stone-carvers have worked towards restoring the original splendour where evidence of patterns and material had survived. Removal of 20th century cement from the dome and walls and its replacement with lime plaster will protect the structure from further decay and deterioration.
The significance of the prominently located Sabz Burj is defined by its intricate ornamentation – tilework, medallions, incised plasterwork, stone carving and the painted ceiling. Unfortunately, the painted interior wall surfaces have all been lost but for the rest, the conservation effort aimed at restoring the missing elements and in turn the cultural significance of this 16th century mausoleum.
Through archival research, scientific documentation and condition analysis, a conservation plan was prepared and approved at the onset. The conservation effort relied on using traditional materials and craftsmanship.
Striking glazed tiles on the lotus finial, dome and the drum or neck of the dome – inspired by Timurid buildings of Central Asia, are the defining architectural element of the Sabz Burj. With much of tile work of the dome lost in the 20th century, tiles were fixed here by the Archaeological Survey of India in the 1980s. Original Mughal era tiles had survived on the neck – in simple, repetitive geometric patterns formed using four different colours of glazed tiles.
With the dome leaking, the 1980’s tiles could also be replaced with tiles of the exact physical and chemical composition of the original Mughal tiles – handmade at the workshops established at Humayun’s Tomb.
From under layers of cement render, conservators painstakingly revealed a painted ceiling with intricate floral patterns and motifs, created in real gold and lapis lazuli. Many patterns now seen here were later used in Mughal miniature painting. On removal of the cement and paint layers, a microscopic documentation was carried out. With this ceiling now understood to be of immense value, no restoration of missing portions was carried out.
To prevent any further water seepage causing further deterioration to the painted ceiling, the dome was re-tiled.
The Conservation of Sabz Burj marks the first ever conservation of a national monument with CSR funds and Havells have also provided illumination of the structure to enhance the night skyline of the historic Humayun’s Tomb – Nizamuddin precinct.
Sabz Burj, built in the 1530’s is amongst the earliest Mughal era monuments in Delhi. The building stands within a traffic island prominently at the entrance to the Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage Site. It is estimated 60 lakh cars cross the monument annually. Conservation works on this significant structure have been undertaken during 2017-21 with the support of Havells by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India.
On removal of 20th century cement during this conservation effort, a painted ceiling was painstakingly revealed by specialist conservators and found to have been painted in pure gold and lapiz amongst other elements. This is now thought to be the earliest surviving painted ceiling for any monument in India and is indicative of the significance of the monument.
The Sabz Burj is a unique monument in Delhi that boasts of glazed tiles on the dome and the tall, elongated drum on which the dome rests. Tiles matching the physical and chemical properties of the 16th century tiles have now been restored on the dome as well as on the drum where these were missing. All surviving original tiles have been retained, even if these had lost their glaze.
Another unique feature of the monument that came to light during conservation works are the differing incised plaster patterns on each of the eight facades. Fortunately, fragments of each of these patterns had survived and it was possible to accordingly restore the patterns in full. Variations of these patterns on this monument include geometric, floral patterns and inscriptions created in incised lime plaster. In undertaking the conservation, master craftsmen – stone carvers, masons, tile makers – have used traditional materials and building craft techniques favored by Indian craftsmen in the 16th century.
The project will follow an urban conservation approach by integrating conservation works with redevelopment of the Sabz Burj roundabout to act as a connection and a grand point of entry to the Nizamuddin heritage zone. The roundabout will act as grand urban junction with an extended pedestrian plaza to announce the cultural and historical importance of the area, acting as a gateway to this historic district of Delhi.
Following the UNESCO revision of the world heritage site boundaries in 2016, Sabz Burj is now in the buffer zone of the Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage Site. Therefore, conservation works to be undertaken here will be guided by prevalent national and international norms and charters. The proposed works will follow a craft based approach to conservation and employ the use of traditional materials and craftsmanship to undo the loss of original fabric due to decay, neglect and inappropriate 20th century intervention.
The conservation works will be preceded by a systematic and scientific documentation of the monument, archival research and detailed condition mapping – using 3D laser scanning technology - to understand the extent and nature of the decay, informing a Conservation Plan for the complex, with inputs from a multi-disciplinary team.
Conservation of Sabz Burj will allow the learnings from the Humayun’s Tomb Conservation project, especially the revival of tile making traditions to be practiced by master craftsmen trained in the skill by Uzbek master craftsmen, employed by AKTC.
The urban conservation of the proposed project area presents a unique situation, especially when there are no urban conservation references or models of such grand scale executed anywhere in India. A very complex and layered historic area, the conservation approach will be informed by an approach that is effective, viable and sustainable.
At the entrance to the Interpretation Centre/ Site Museum stands the early 16th century monument of Sabz Burj, possibly the earliest Mughal structure in Delhi. Over 6 million individuals view the magnificent yet presently ruinous structure located on the busy Mathura Road every year. AKTC is seeking from Havell’s co-funding to undertake the conservation of Sabz Burj. This initiative brings together world class professional capabilities in all relevant areas and combines a visionary approach with local contexts and complexities. It is establishing an archetype for participatory conservation-led development with respect for historic cities and their human, cultural, and physical assets, and showcasing a unique and effective approach to the revitalisation of historic urban centres by simultaneously focussing on conservation of protected and unprotected monuments, public space enhancement, environmental upgrading together with the physical upgrading of adjacent living areas, vocational training, employment generation, upgrading essential facilities such as in the education and health sectors, amongst key proposed interventions.