‘High Fort’ is an an
cient fortress located in the country’s south of the old city of Kabul. The estimated date of construction is around the 5th century AD. Bala-Hisar sits to the south of the modern city center at the tail end of the Koh-e-Sherdarwaza Mountain.
The Walls of Kabul, which are 6.1 m high and 3.7 m thick, start at the fortress and follow the mountain ridge in a sweeping curve down to the river. It sports a set of gates for access to the fortress. The Koh-e-Sherdarwaza Mountain is behind the fort.
The origins of the Bala-Hisar fortress are obscure. Pre-Kushan pottery as well as Indo-Greek and Achaemenid coins have been recovered in its vicinity, indicating settlements in the area from at least the 6th century CE. Usage of the site as a citadel has been dated to a period as early as the 5th century; however, minimal evidence exists regarding its precise history.
Evidence of notable activity at the site begins with the Mughals. The fortress was besieged and conquered by Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, in 1504. After Akbar succeeded his father and consolidated his rule over Kabul, the Bala-Hisar became the primary residence of the governor of Kabul Subah.
Under the Mughals, the site developed into a notable palace-fortress, comparable in size to those at the Mughal capitals of Agra and Lahore. The outer walls of the fortress were strengthened and the area of the site expanded.
After the Mughals lost Kabul, the fortress went into neglect, passing into the hands of Persians and the Durranis, until Timur Shah Durrani came to power in 1773. Upon shifting the Durrani capital to Kabul, Timur occupied the fortress and rebuilt a palace within, and used the upper part of the fortress as a state prison and arsenal.
His successor Shah Shuja Durrani further developed the fortress. The structures erected by the Durranis replaced many earlier Mughal constructions.
As Kabul’s principal fortress, Bala-Hisar was the stage for several pivotal events in both the First (1838–1842) and Second Anglo-Afghan Wars (1878–1880). The British envoy to Kabul, Sir Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari was murdered inside the fort in September 1879 triggering a general uprising and the second phase of the Second Anglo-Afghan War.
It was damaged during the Second Anglo-Afghan War when the British Residency was burned down, then later when the armory exploded. British Army officer Frederick Roberts had wanted to demolish the fortress completely, but in the end it was strengthened and fortified in the Spring of 1880, a few months before the British left Afghanistan.
On August 5, 1979, the Bala-Hisar uprising was organized by anti-government groups, but it was suppressed and tens of people were arrested and executed by the regime.
Bala-Hisar once again became the focal point of conflict between factions during the Afghan civil war in 1994, between Masoud’s and Hekmatyar’s forces. Much of the fortress was damaged as a result.
When looking at the outer wall of the main fortress, it is possible to see layers of building materials from years of destruction and re-fortification.
The tanks and other war wreckage from the last 30 years are strewn about the top of the hillside. Much of the hillside is built up on tunnels and underground storage.
In early 2021, the country’s Ministry of Information and Culture signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture on the reconstructing and consolidation of the walls and the structure, as well as to establish an archeological park at the site. Saida Ahmadi