History of Peshawar

By Asghar Javed

Once standing on the top of imposing Bala-Hisar Fort in Peshawar, one could see the historic Khyber Valley- gateway that has seen traders, conquers, nomads and travellers passing through it. But today, you can only see the jungle of high concrete structures, plazas and clouds of hanging over the cityscape. So much ‘development’ has taken place in the historic city.

Zaheer-ud-Din Babur crossed the Khyber Pass in the Sixteen Century on his way from Kabul, and ordered to strengthen the Fort of Peshawar known as Bala-Hisar (the high Fort). The Fort became a symbol of his victory on this side of the Khyber Pass. Sikhs and British during their rule reinforced Bala-Hisar for different reasons through.

The history of the fort must surely to that of the city, but the early days are marked in mystery. It is tempting, however, to see this as the site of fortification protected by a moat that was visited and described by the Chinese travellers like Hsuan Tsang and later Ruder Kipling. Presently Bala-Hisar fort houses headquarters of a prestigious Frontier Corps- the defenders of the mountains. Many kings have stayed in this Fort cum Royal residence in the past, contemplating their strategic moves to consolidate their gains.

The Mosque Mahabat Khan, Peshawar’s outstanding architecture legacy, in Jeweller’s Bazar was constructed by the Governor of Peshawar Mahabat Khan Mirza Lerharsib, in 1630 during the era of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan. The Mosque was desecrated and badly damaged by the Sikhs in early nineteen century and later when the fire broke out in 1898. The British renovated it for the first time and brought back some of its grandeur.

Presently it is being looked after by the Auqaf Department and seem in an urgent need of attention. Intricate naqqashi is fading and creaks have snacked in the courtyard as well as in the walls of the grand mosque.

For-tiered Cunningham clock tower erected at the turn of the century on the eve of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee other gems in the history of Peshawar that catch the eye of any passer by.

The famous Chowk Yadgar, is located in the amidst of wide and sprawling convergence point of different major roads and bazaars of the city, have witnessed agitation stemming from religious, political and international issues in the country. Commemorative square was originally named in the memory of British Colonel Hastings. In 1969, the square was dedicated to the heroes of 1965 Indo-Pakistan war.

Edward’s Collage was established in 1901 and named in the memory of famous administrative Sir Herbert Edward as missionary boarding school. Later, Haji Sahib of Turangzai laid down the foundation of Islamia collage in 1911. The collage has magnificent frontage facing Jamrud Road with its domes, kiosks and pinnacles rising above the green trees, which contrast sharply with red brick ornate building. The architectural taste is peculiarly of Mughal with a touch of colonial style. Three domed mosque adjacent to the collage is also of the artistic pleasure.

The British made Peshawar their frontier headquarters. They also added a new part to the historic city: typical colonial garrison with Gora Bazaar, church, single men barracks, bungalows and cantonment Railway Station. The blend of colonial and Mughal architecture, shady trees, flower beds along pathways and spacious

Houses in garrison in contrast to the multi storied residences in the city still stand out boldly.

Cosmopolitan character of Qissa Khawani Bazaar-Piccadilly of Peshawar is lined with its traditional kehwa khanas, Tikka, Chapli Kabab and dry fruit shops along with modern show rooms of leather ware and bright coloured garments. The stories of the Amirs of Bokhara and the Khans of Khiva and regional love of ‘Adam and our Khani have been substituted by satellite receivers continuously breaking news and telling amazing tales of fiction from all over the world. General Evitable, the Italian mercenary who was appointed governor of Peshawar by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, built the bazaar in the present shape in the early nineteenth century. Among tourist, it is still best known Bazaar of the city. Afghan refugees who came to Peshawar as a result of Soviet occupation have added yet another dimension in the character of the city in general this bazaar in particular where they can be seen doing business from exchanging money to selling Kehwa.

In a grand Victorian hall, the Peshawar Museum houses one of the world’s best collection of Gandhara art, including stupas depicting the Buddha’s stupa collection presents a clear picture of life of Peshawar Valley during first four centuries A.D. when Peshawar was the capital of a vast empire. Handicrafts, tools and cloths of different tribes in the ethnological portion I the museum are also interesting and throw light on the cultural heritage of the region.

Life during the early days may be severed in old city. Historic houses having bay windows, jharoka and naqqashi work that may be reminiscent of Gandhara. Persian or Greek art are still servicing against all odds.

Sethi houses built during 1830-34, wood - work added in them in 1983, are good specimen of the past. Expert from International Union of Conservation have already carried out a survey for conservation of the houses and the result is still awaited . but the requirement is that Archaeology Department, city development agencies and real estate developers, all should work for preservation of legendary character of the city holding thousands of secrets.

Beyond history, heritage and culture, Peshawar faces all problems urbanization. City once famous for gardens and flowers is turning Grey. A case study of Peshawar has revelled that the city has lost 2700 acres of agriculture land during the two decades (1965-85). This in the addition to 400 of acres of vacant land that has been also eaten up by expending urban functions. In the same period, the land under parks and green space has shrunk from 163 to 75 acres.

With such thick layer of history compressed so tightly, Peshawar today is continuously growing and expanding. The need of the hour is that the concerned authorities should make plans for conserving its heritage otherwise we will lose our rich culture.


Cultural Heritage | History | Indus Civilization | Gandhara Civilization | Islamic Period | Sikh Period

British Period    Post Independence | Landscape| Gardens | Museums & Galleries Lahore 100 yrs ago

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