Near the apex of the delta of the Indus River in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh is an enormous cemetery possessing half a million tombs and graves in an area of about 10 km2. Massed at the edge of the 6.5 km-long plateau of Makli Hill, the necropolis of Makli – which was associated with the nearby city of Thatta, once a capital and centre of Islamic culture – testifies in an outstanding manner to the civilization of the Sindh from the 14th to the 18th centuries.
The vast necropolis of Makli is among the largest in the world. Kings, queens, governors, saints, scholars, and philosophers are buried here in brick or stone monuments, some of which are lavishly decorated with glazed tiles. One of the largest necropolises in the world, with a diameter of approximately 8 kilometers, Makli Hill is supposed to be the burial place of some 125,000 Sufi saints.
Legends abound about its inception, but it is generally believed that the cemetery grew around the shrine of the fourteenth-century Sufi, Hamad Jamali. The tombs and gravestones spread over the cemetery are material documents marking the social and political history of Sind.
Among the outstanding monuments constructed in stone are the tombs of Jam Nizamuddin II, who reigned from 1461 to 1509, and of lsa Khan Tarkhan the Younger and of his father, Jan Baba, both of whose mausolea were constructed before 1644. The most colourful is that of Diwan Shurfa Khan (died in 1638). Imperial mausoleums are divided into two major groups, those from the Samma (1352–1520) and Tarkhan (1556–1592) periods. The tomb of the Samma king, Jam Nizam al-Din (reigned 1461–1509), is an impressive square structure built of sandstone and decorated with floral and geometric medallions. Similar to this is the mausoleum of Isa Khan Tarkhan II (d. 1651), a two-story stone building with majestic cupolas and balconies. In contrast to the syncretic architecture of these two monuments, which integrate Hindu and Islamic motifs, are mausoleums that clearly show the Central Asian roots of the later dynasty. An example is the tomb of Jan Beg Tarkhan (d. 1600), a typical octagonal brick structure whose dome is covered in blue and turquoise glazed tiles.
The unique assemblage of massive structures presents an impressive order of monumental buildings in different architectural styles. These structures are notable for their fusion of diverse influences into a local style. These influences include, among others, Hindu architecture of the Gujrat style and Mughal imperial architecture. Distant Persian and Asian examples of architectural terra-cotta were also brought to Makli and adapted. An original concept of stone decoration was created at Makli, perhaps determined by the imitation of painted and glazed tile models. The historical monuments at the necropolis of Makli stand as eloquent testimonies to the social and political history of the Sindh. Today, Makli Hill is a United Nations World Heritage Site that is visited by both pilgrims and tourists.