Forts have been constructed throughout history, some as a practical measure to subdue rebels or win wars, others as a show of strength of a ruling party or to serve as a more secure and formidable palace for the powerful. Whatever the purpose, forts provide a good view into the past, and also serve as great examples of both architectural ingenuity and ancient aesthetics. Pakistan is home to some of these archaeological and historical treasures as well. Below is a list of a few of the interesting historical forts found throughout the country:
Rohtas fort was built in the 16th century on the orders of Sher Shah Suri, mainly to keep in check the rebel tribes of the times. It is located near the city of Jhelum, on the Grand Trunk Road between the mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the flatlands of Punjab. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1997. It is also built in an Afghan-Persian architectural style and is a shining model of Muslim military architectural expertise. A Persian inscription on one of the gates reads:
“In the Hijri Year 948 came the exalted
At that time constructed the great fort
The emperor is Sher, with long life
There is no match to his good fortune”
Lahore Fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. It is also called Shahi Qilla. The original builders of the fort remain unknown but the existing base structure was built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 16th or 17th century. Further additions took place as Muslim, Sikh and British rulers came and left in the area.
The fort consists of two sections. The first of these contains gardens and the Diwan-e-khas, led to by the main entrances. This served the administrative purposes of the court. Another part of the fort contains the Sheesh Mahal, the palace of mirrors. The walls of the fort are adorned with blue Persian Kashi tiles, and there are also rooms for residential purposes.
Ranikot Fort is located in the district of Jamshoro District, Sindh. The architects of this fort remain unknown, but its origin can be dated back to the 17th century, though additions were made in the 19th century. It is referred to as The Great Wall of Sindh and its circumference of 26 km makes it the world’s largest fort. The whole fort has been constructed with the help of stone and lime. A small fortress, a few miles from the main gate, is speculated to have served as the royal residence for the ruling family of Mirs. It has been on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1993.
Bala Hissar Fort
Locally known as Qila Bala Hissar, the name of the fort translates to “High Fort” and has its origins in Dari Persian. It remains one of the most historically relevant places in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The fort has been serving as the headquarters of the Frontier Corps since 1949. However, the provincial assembly has passed a resolution in 2014, wanting to make the fort a tourism point instead. This has yet to happen. Historically, the fort was used as the winter capital of the Afghan Durrani Empire, while Kabul remained the summer one.
The name of the fort translates to “this side down.” It is located a few kilometers away from Karimabad, in Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan. The fort has recently been restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Cultural Historic Cities Support Programme. Different parts of the fort were built at different points in time and some of these date back more than a thousand years. Its initial purpose was to be used as a palace for the rulers of Hunza, but after the addition of the watch tower, it was turned into a fort and used as one. The previous purpose is reflected in a room on the second level, with houses an earthen space for resting flanked by four columns, where official receptions used to take place.
Baltit Fort is located in Hunza as well, and is newer than Altit. While Altit was the old fort used by the Mirs, they moved to Baltit soon after its construction. It is claimed to date back 700 years, and owes most of its splendor to the Tibetan princess who married the local prince in the 16th Century and brought along with herself her 500 maids, masons and craftsmen to look after the new home, changing its face and foundation forever in the process. The fort has been honored with the Award of Excellence in the UNESCO 2004 Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation. The first floor of Baltit fort contains guards rooms, a dungeon and a private meeting room, as well as the kitchen which still houses some of the utensils used in the times of the rulers. The second floor consists of an open terrace, and the main attraction is the royal throne under a wooden canopy. Bay windows afford an incredible view of the valley below. On the third floor, there is a small mosque.
Sandeman Fort is also called Quetta Fort, and dates back to the times of the British Raj in the subcontinent. It was part of the process of making Quetta into a military town and a stronghold of the British in those tumultuous times, due to its location close to Afghanistan where the British interest was. The fort is named after Robert Sandeman, who was a political agent of the British sent to administer Balochistan after the Khans of Killat officially lost control of the region in the 19th century.
Kot Diji Fort
Kot Diji Fort is also known as Fort Ahmadabad. It is located in the town of Kot Diji, in the district of Khairpur. It served as a residency for the rulers of Khairpur in times of peace and was built in the 18th century by the founder of the Kingdom of Upper Sindh. The fort has been constructed with kiln-baked bricks on a limestone hill. The bricks were a more strategic choice by the builders as the local limestone was too brittle to withstand an attack by opposing forces. Despite these considerations, and the fact that the rulers moved to another safe location during wartime as a precautionary measure, throughout the entire course of history, Fort Kot Diji has never once been attacked.