TOURIST GUIDES AT the Qutb Shahi tombs—among the oldest heritage sites in Hyderabad—have a sheepish look these days. Until two years ago, they were reeling out the myth that Sultan Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, was a saint whose tomb, devoid of any ornamentation, was evidence of his simplicity. Recent efforts to restore the tombs present a different story— ornamental stucco was found beneath layers of cement plaster on the exterior walls of Quli Qutb Shah’s tomb. The decoration on the minarets and details on the merlons below the dome were also restored.
The tombs of the seven rulers of the dynasty are on a 100-acre site, along with around 40 tombs of courtesans and other members of the royal family. Ever since the Aga Khan Trust for Culture initiated conservation and restoration work of the tombs in collaboration with the state government’s Heritage Telangana, new finds have upended age-old notions about the rulers of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. In 2013, the trust had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to take up the work in a three-phased manner inside the Qutb Shahi Heritage Park, which has 80 monuments, including 23 mosques, seven step wells, a hamam or Turkish bath, tanks, gardens and enclosure walls. After Quli Qutb Shah, tombs of the six successive rulers of the dynasty were constructed over a period of 169 years. The floral designs and other decoration on the tombs have been influenced by Persian, Pathan and Hindu architecture.