History of Bala Hissar (Peshawar)

Bala Hissar means high fort in Persian. There are several other forts which are also named Bala Hissar. It is unknown as to when the Bala Hissar of Peshawar was erected. Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang makes a reference to it in 7th century AD when he uses the term “Kung shing” in the description of Peshawar City and its environs which means the “walled portion of the town, in which the royal palace stood”. So to say, there was a fort in Peshawar when Hiuen Tsang visited it in the seventh century. 

Chronologically the next reference to the fort of Peshawar is found in the Baburnama. Babur put the fort of Peshawar in order, stored corn in it and converted it into a Mughal military outpost. Sometimes after the death of Babur, Dilazak Pashtuns in the Peshawar valley destroyed the Bala Hissar and in 1552 Humayun found it in ruins. The latter rebuilt it and put Sikandar Khan Uzbek in charge of the fort. Later on, Gaju Khan (the head the of the Khashi tribes of Pashtuns) laid siege of the Peshawar fort but he could not capture it. 

Bala Hissar under Mughals

During Akbar’s reign, Sayyid Hamid Bukhari was in charge of Peshawar fort and was tasked with guarding the road to Kabul. He was pressed hard by the Roshanias under their leader Jalal al-din Ansari (son of Pir Roshan), popularly known as Jalala. In 1586 Jalala invested the fort of Peshawar. Sayyid Hamid Bukhari suffered a defeat and was killed, and the fort was damaged. The Mughals repaired the fort and continued their struggle against Jalala till his disappearance from the scene. In the period under review, by chance fire broke out in the fort and a thousand camel loads of merchandise was consumed. Faridun was then the commandant of the fort. This incident appears to have taken place after the Roshanias attack on the fort. In 1592, the Pashtuns again invested the fort of Bala Hissar but Zain Khan Koka was able to relieve the fortress. In 1630 the Roshanias struck again and laid siege to Peshawar but could not succeed.

The fort remained in the possession of the Mughal emperors with varying degree of control. With the arrival of Nadir Shah in Peshawar in 1737, the Moghul governor surrendered the valley to him. Nadir Shah crossed the River Indus and concluded a treaty with Emperor Muhammad Shah, according to which the territory west of the Indus was transferred to him. Peshawar thus passed into the hands of Nadir Shah and became a seat of the governors appointed by him. The Governor, it is recorded, held his court at Bala Hissar. In 1747 AD, Ahmad Shah Abdali made full use of the strategic position of the fort and brought the entire Peshawar valley under his complete control. When Ahmad Shah died, his son, Taimur Shah Durrani, succeeded to the throne and made Peshawar his winter capital. The royal residence was, therefore, shifted to Bala Hissar. Raverty records that Shah Zaman Durrani almost entirely rebuilt Bala Hissar, who added to it a Hall of Audience, Zenanah, and various other buildings.

Destruction of Bala Hissar by Sikhs

The Sikhs captured Peshawar on 20th November 1818. Soon after the occupation of the city, one of the first things that Ranjit Singh did was to set the Bala Hissar on fire, most probably for the reason that it was the seat of the Afghan Kingdom. As regards the destruction wrought by the Sikhs, William Moorcraft, who came here in 1824, records, ” in the immediate vicinity of the town (Peshawar) the Sikhs had inflicted more mischief than many years labour could remedy, by destroying gardens and orchards, and demolishing the wells and channels of irrigation. The Bala Hissar, which, at the time of the British embassy, was the occasional residence of the king, and in which their audience took place, was a heap of rubbish, and the only use made of it by the rulers of Peshawar was as a quarry from whence to procure materials for dwellings of their own erection”. Thus, many magnificent works of Mughal architecture which once existed in the Bala Hissar were a part of the quarry.

The fort was rebuilt, according to Rai Bahadur Munshi Gopal Das, by Hari Singh after the battle of Nowshera, while Burnes notes that it was rebuilt in the time of Sardar Kurruck Singh. Raverty records, that the present fort was erected by Sher Singh, the son of Ranjit, on his father’s orders, and in consequence, whatever remained of the old Bala Hissar was razed to the ground. It was built mostly of unburnt bricks, and was rather imposing in appearance, but of no great strength. The re-erection of the fort by the Sikhs appears to be military in nature as in order to control the Peshawar Valley, they raised fortifications at different places. Peshawar being the headquarters of the area, also needed a fortified place for the same purpose, and the site where formerly stood the Bala Hissar was suitable because of its strategic location. The fort, along with the valley of Peshawar passed into the hands of the British in 1848 AD. who completely renovated it, both internally as well as externally.


1- Journal “Central Asia”, 1982, pp.21-23
2- Peshawar: Historic City of the Frontier, Ahmad Hasan Dani 
3- The Guardians of the Frontier: The Frontier Corps, N.W.F.P., Mohammad Nawaz Khan

Bala Hissar
Bala Hissar in 1836. Painting by G.T.Vigne.
Bala Hissar
Earliest photo of Bala Hissar, taken in circa 1858. By John Burke. Source
Bala Hissar
Bala Hissar, Peshawar, 1950



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