Are you familiar with the term ‘fresco’? Before I take you on to a tour of this land of fresco work, let me tell you a little about what fresco is. According to the dictionary and experts of the art the word fresco is derived from an Italian word affresco and Italian adjective fresco meaning “fresh”, and may thus be contrasted with fresco-secco or secco mural painting techniques, which are applied to dried plaster, to supplement painting in fresco. Experts tell us that it is any kind of a picture or a motif made by painting on wet plaster on the walls or ceilings of a building. In local language, it is also called “Naqashi”. It is a unique technique of painting executed upon freshly laid or wet lime plaster in which water is used as the vehicle for the dry powder color to merge with the plaster, and with the setting of the plaster, the painting becomes an integral part of the wall. References also tell us that the fresco technique has been employed since antiquity and is closely associated with Italian Renaissance painting.Now the most interesting part is that in the past the colours for fresco were extracted from various plants, trees, fruits, vegetable and different elements inside the soil, earth and nature following a lengthy procedure. There were special artisans who used to do this work and it was a specialised art and they had a vast knowledge of the colors and which element would produce what colour. Experts tell us that there are two types of fresco painting, buono fresco (wet fresco) and fresco secco (dry fresco). Buono fresco is painting onto wet plaster, which makes a painting last a long time. Fresco secco is painting onto dry plaster, which does not last as long. Buono Fresco is found mostly in Europe and Fresco Secco has been practiced mostly in the subcontinent. If we go into the history of this art, which seems very interesting to me, we get to know that by 1500 BC the techniques of fresco painting developed and advanced and the painting on wet plaster started, allowing more flexibility in the use and location of frescoes for decorative purposes of the walls and ceilings of buildings and that was the richest and finest embellishment. As per historic accounts the earliest revealed examples of such frescoes around 1500 BC are found in Greece and Morocco. It is said by the art historians and artists that the early frescoes, painted on the limestone walls of the caves, contained remarkably expressive and realistic figures of horses, bison, bears, lions, mammoths, and rhinoceroses, which continue to fascinate researchers and art historians till today. Let us come to our region and fresco. According to historic and archeological references we find fresco work in the subcontinent especially India that dates back to the 1st century BCE to the 6th and 7th CCE. These paintings are seen in Ajanta Caves representing the early Buddha era. Similar paintings are found in the rocks and caves of Sri Lanka. Throughout the history of the sub continent fresco work is found in the temples, mosques, havelis, forts and palaces. Just imagine how rich this art was and how common it was in the past.As you make your way into the wondrous and mysteriously magnificent Walled City of Lahore you will start seeing the most excellent illustrations of fresco paintingThen came the Muslim period in the subcontinent, and with the establishment of the Mughal rule this decoration became a part of every monument and building depicting the highest level of aesthetics and creativity, which we still see now. The Mughals developed and promoted this art by giving royal patronage and appreciation to the artisans and painters and I guess they were highly paid and appreciated. Majestic Forts, palaces, residences, mosques and temples were built for which the artists from all over subcontinent and Iran too were commissioned. That was the period when this art flourished the most. Now let us come to the land of fresco, walled city, Lahore. As you make your way into the wondrous and mysteriously magnificent Walled City of Lahore you will start seeing the most excellent illustrations of fresco painting. Well, I take pride in being a Lahori as it is a land where there is so much art and aesthetics. You crawl through the twisting streets, majestic monuments or any small or big haveli inside the walled city you will be mesmerized and awe stunned by the remains and beauty of fresco, and that is not it…the motifs and patterns in the fresco and their symmetry is more stunning.The frescoes are found in almost all Mughal and Sikh era buildings here. We can see some original and mostly restored frescoes in old Lahore especially inside Lahore fort, Shahi Hammam, Wazir khan Mosque, Sonehri Mosque, Begum Shahi Mosque, Haveli Dina Nath, Haveli Dhiyan Singh, Masjid Saleh Kamboh, Taxali Wali Masjid, Victoria High School, Haveli Jamadar Khushhal Singh, Mubarak Haveli, Badshahi Mosque, Haveli Mian Sultan, Lal Haveli, and many other heritage homes and buildings, and I guess the number of such homes would be countless. If we observe we see that mostly the paintings were of fruits, flowers, trees, plants, birds, human faces and figures, crockery, dishes, and extremely complexed geometrical patterns. In some mosques it is said that through fresco the artists depicted the divinity of heaven and the valuable foods and drinks which would be there.One of the best examples of fresco is seen inside the grand Wazir Khan Mosque inside Delhi Gate. There are numerous patterns which make the mosque unique among others and it is said that some Surahs and verses from the Holy Quran are depicting in those paintings. Another example we see is inside the Shahi Hammam on Royal Trail where there are angels and fruits painted in the cold bath area. We find birds, human faces, crockery and flowers all inside Shahi Hammam which was built by the Wazir Khan the builder of the Wazir Khan Mosque. You will also find interesting and unique geometrical designs inside the Begum Shahi Mosque which was built by Jahangir for her mother in 1611. It is said that this mosque and patterns used inside it laid the foundations of design and embellishments for many other Mughal era mosques.Remains of fresco are seen inside the Mosque of Saleh Kamboh too. Most of the parts have been painted by the locals but there are visible remains inside the prayer chambers and ceilings. Now another most of the wonderful piece is the small but splendid prayer chamber of Golden Mosque which is beautifully decorated with floral fresco designs and one is lost in the variety of flowers painted there. This fresco was restored in 2011 with the funding of US Ambassador’s fund when the Golden Mosque was also restored.If we look at the havelis of Lahore we get to know that there are two havelis inside which the fresco is still intact. These are the haveli of Nau Nehal Singh and Haveli of Jamadar Khushhal Singh of Sikh era. There is a huge variety of fresco on the walls and ceilings and it still captivates the visitors. The Havelis of Diwan Dina Nath and Raja Dhiyan Singh of Sikh era also have some traces of fresco work. Inside Lahore Fort we see chambers where there are fresco works. The Alamgiri Gate still has remains of it and so does many other places inside fort.Today we do not have this expertise and I think that the local arts colleges and universities should start on with teaching the techniques of this art. We must revive this lost art as it was a known art of our region and today the entire world has the artisans and we lack it. I got to know that while restoring the Shahi Hammam, Wazir Khan Masjid and Picture wall panel, we had to call upon foreign experts on fresco to teach our students. This is how time changes, once we were the masters and taught this art to the world and now others come to teach us!Published in Daily Times, August 19th 2018.