One of the oldest cities in the world, beautiful indeed, and formerly a great centre of transit-caravan trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia, unfortunately, Peshawar’s history has been written in blood more often than not.
A Brief History
First references to the city occur in the writings of the classical historians Strabo and Arrian and the geographer Ptolemy, early Sanskrit literature and Faxian’s manuscripts about his travels.
Once the capital of the ancient Buddhist kingdom of Gandhara, the city was known variously under many names such as Parasawara, Purusapura and Begram. The present name, Peshawar is ascribed to Akbar.
The Vale of Peshawar was first annexed by the Greco-Bactrian king Eucratides. Later, it became capital of the Kushan empire. By the 16th century it was in the possession of the Durrani’s, followed by the Mughals, the Sikhs, and after that, the British. After the creation of Pakistan, when Pakistani’s got caught up in a war which was never ours, to begin with, Peshawar bore the worst of the brunt.
We all know about the city’s street food, particularly it’s Chappali Kebabs. Lesser known is its architecture, it is more than worthy of dedicating a photo essay too. Here we go!
Qilla Bala Hisaar
The Fort is the first thing you see upon entering the city. The historic fortress has been standing since the 7th century. Now being used as the Frontier Corps Headquarters, it is opened for tourists only on weekends. It is also why I was slightly cramped up for space taking pictures, but its magnificence is bound to leave you in awe nevertheless.
Once the royal residence for the Durrani’s, the fort’s history is as bloody as the city itself. The Sikhs rebuilt the citadel on the remains of the former royal residence, as it has been destroyed in battle. After the overthrow of emperor Humayun by the Afghan King Sher Shah Suri, the Afghans destroyed the fort. Later on, the British also did considerable damage before they occupied it.
The fort has had many names. In 1834, the Sikhs named the fort as Sameer Garh, also a name for Mount Kailash, a peak in Tibet considered sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. However, this name did not become popular and was soon replaced again by “Bala Hissar”, which is Persian for “High Fort”. The Mughals referred to it as the “Bagram Fort”.
The dungeons have been converted into a museum, save for one cell. It still hosts two dummies, and take my word for it, it gives you chills down your spine.
You can end your tour, limited as it may be, with a nice cup of tea in their cosy lounge!
Islamiya College Peshawar
Our next stop, is Islamia College. Built in 1913, it is famous for the role it played in the independence struggle in then-NWFP, now KPK. Quaid-e-Azam famously bequeathed a third of his assets to the college in his will.
The building employes a form of architecture unique to the subcontinent: Indo-Saracenic. The revivalist architectural style combines trends from Mughal and Gothic architecture. Mughal architectural styles give life to the uniform structure of bulbous domes, slender minarets with cupolas at the four corners, large halls, and massive vaulted gateways. Whereas large glass windows, pointed arches, and ribbed vaults come from European Gothic architecture. Extremely intricate and ornate decorations were interestingly common to both these styles, thus creating this beauty.
University of Peshawar
Founded in 1950, it is one of the oldest as well as one of the best universities in Pakistan.
Following traditional architectural styles, it is also one of the latest buildings to have been built along the lines of Mughal-Gothic architecture. The beautiful red bricks, symmetrical round domes, and long arched hallways, the building almost transports you to another era, should you have an eye for detail. Its huge windows are a testament to inspiration from Gothic times, but since the glass is clear as day, rather than being stained in a multitude of colours, it adds the perfect splash of contemporary, and a lot of professionalism.
Masjid Muhabbat Khan
Masjid Muhabbat Khan has been standing since 1670. It was built under Mughal rule, at a vantage point, thus overlooked the city in its entirety back in the day.
The mosque’s facade of white marble makes it one of the most iconic structures in the entire city. Although the building comprises of eight magnificent minarets, only two of them are functional, whereas the other six are decorative. Fluted domes cover the prayer hall. Panels, walls and the ceiling, both inside and outside the mosque are home to engravings and embellishments of floral designs and calligraphy.
Like most other places in Peshawar, this Masjid too, has a history woven into war, and darkness. Refugee Afghan Tribal elders would gather at this mosque to unite their people against the enemy during the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Before that, it’s minarets were used as an alternative to gallows, and up to five men were sent to their deaths each day.
The name, also pronounced as “Gor Kuthree” literally translates to “Warrior’s Grave”. The site houses a 17th century Shiva Temple, a mosque, and Sara-e-Jahandad, a caravanserai which was established in 1641 by Begum Jahan Ara, the elder daughter of Mughal king Shah Jehan.
Most buildings were being used as offices by several departments including the municipal administration, Auqaf and fire brigade till 2015. For restoration measures, it was vacated and went on to become the first ever archaeological park in the country.
Ghanta Ghar, Sir Cunnigham Tower
The Cunningham Clock Tower was up on its feet in all its glory in 1900, to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. Designed by James Strachan, it was named after Sir George Cunningham, former British governor and political agent in the province, who laid its foundation stone in 1898.
The Church Mission Society established the college in 1900, as an outgrowth of Edwardes High School, which had been founded in 1855 by the society as the first institution of western-style schooling in the northwest frontier region of what was British India. The institution was named Edwardes in recognition of the commissioner’s contributions.
The Old Hall, Old Hostel, Arts Block and Shalimar Quadrangle stand in all their glory, as displays of Brutalist-Mughal-Gothic architecture as one of the many witnesses to a city with a rich heritage.
Entering Saddar, the London Book Company is one of the first things you shall notice. The cosy bookshop’s is painted in a bright blue that would otherwise sting your eyes. There is also a haveli situated behind this block of Saddar, which shares its boundaries with a church and a school. You can catch glimpses of it through the gaps between the shops.
Unfortunately, three historic cafes, the Silver Star, Golden Star and Khyber have pulled down shutters for good in the recent years owing to crippling financial situations.
The Old City
Androon Peshawar is iconic for historic bazaars, gates and monuments.
Qissa Khwani bazaar’s name is derived from Persian words “Qissa Khwan” mean “the story teller”. The marketplace was and remains famous for its storytellers for merchants, who came by from all over the Old Silk Road. As I said before, blood is embedded into the history of this resilient city. The bazaar is also famous for the brutal massacre of 1930 by the British Raj. From the best food in Namakmandi, to felt caps, to bronze work-there is seldom anything you can not find in these markets.
The old city wall was built during the reign of Sikh Governor General Avitabile, who was basically an Italian mercenary and remained in office from 1838 to 1842. It was made of mud, which was later replaced with bricks by Britishers after they took over the city in 1849. The the original wall that was around 16,500 feet high.
Today, only two out of the original sixteen gates, remain in their original form, whereas the rest were either removed, or renovated. Some of the gates are removed and some are renovated.
Sethi House, Androon Peshawar
Sethi Muhallah is an old 19th century establishment, of seven stunning mansions, built in architectural style native to Central Asia. The Sethi family were traders with business stretching from South Asia to Europe. At present, the “Sethi house” is a museum.
Constructed primarily with bricks and wood, the building is a wonder of brutalism. The ceilings and walls boast beautiful carvings, stained glass windows and fine woodwork with geometric designs by artisans from far flung areas. The glassworks varies in each room. The ventilation has been planned carefully and the central courtyard is adorned with a fountain.
Legend has it that during the Second World War, the family lost a lot of its wealth, and the rest was stored in the large safe in the basement in Soviet Rubles!
Last but not the least, Karkhano Market.
The four thousand something chops came to life in the 1980’s in the Hayatabad Industrial area. Now, this is THE market to go too. You find anything and everything from electronics to clothing, cosmetics, toys, watches, cigars, video games, shoes, military-grade equipment, even tissue rolls which say “For Use of the US Army, knives, bulletproof jackets…the list goes on. Way past its glorious days, when there used to be little or no check on contraband, it is still one amazing place to visit. On a side note, Sitara Market remains the most iconic out of the lot, to date!