Cover story: Forts of Pakistan

Published May 15, 2010

Our country has a rich and continuous history that saw some of the oldest civilisations, and many foreign invaders and rulers who came to this region and all left their imprints in different ways. Among the legacy of such an extensive history are the forts that still stand, ranging from simple defensive structure to massive complexes. Historically, forts are assumed to have been military positions put up to guard against attacks.

Before the advent of modern weapons, almost all important cities were defended by permanent fortification, either by a high wall encircling the city and sometimes a walled and a citadel within or outside the city or a combination of both. On the other hand, some forts were the abode of rulers and noblemen.

Pakistan has many historical forts, many of them not well-known to outsiders. Let us take a walk down history's lane and discover some of these forts that still echo with the magic and mystery of their glory days.

Rawat

Rawat Fort lies 17km from Rawalpindi on G.T Road. The name Rawat comes from the Arabic word “rabat” which means an inn. According to some historians, the fort was built by Sultan Masood, son of Sultan Mehmood Ghaznavi in 1036AD. Another legend has it that the fort was built by Sarang Khan, a leader of Gakkhar tribe of the Potohar Plateau, in the early 16th century.

The fort is almost square in shape and the surrounding area has a semi-circular bastion with two gates located on the east and west. The fort also contains a mosque with three large dome-shaped rooms on the western side named Shahi Masjid. In the centre of the fort, there are many graves. Among them there is the tomb of Sultan Sarang Khan and graves of his 16 sons who died in a fight with Sher Shah Suri.

Phrasal

Phrasal Fort is about 40km from Rawalpindi near Chirah Village. It is a Gakhar fort built in the 15th century on the ruins of a 10th century fort of a Hindu ruler. It was conquered by Emperor Babar in 1519AD, so is also known as Babar Fort. The fort was handed back to the natives after the reconciliation of the Mughals with Gakhar. Later, in 1825, the Sikhs expelled the Gakhars from this fort.

The Hathi (elephant) Gate of the fort towards the north eastern corner is still grand, while the Begum Gate opens towards the south western end, though greatly damaged, it stands tall at a sheer rock rising from the Swan River.

The north western gate is greatly damaged and a smaller gate towards the south eastern end retains its boundary walls and is used by the inmates as the main entrance.

Multan

Multan Fort is a stunning fort built on a mound separating it from the city by the old bed of River Ravi. Some historians claim it to be 2000 years old, constructed in about 600BC.

The fort had defence and architectural importance and consisted of 46 bastions and two towers at each of the four gates. The names of the gates include Delhi Gate, Khizri Gate, Sikhi Gate and Rehri Gate. Shrines of Hazrat Bahauddin Zakaria and Shah Rukn-e-Alam are located near the main gate of the fort. Other attractions are Qasim Bagh and a stadium within the walls of the fort.

Muzaffarabad

Also known as the Red Fort, Muzaffarabad Fort was built by Sultan Muzaffar Khan, the founder of Muzaffarabad city. Work was completed in 1646 but the fort underwent changes during the time of the Dogera rulers, Maharaja Gulab Singh and Rambir Singh.

It is surrounded by River Neelum on three sides and the northern part of the fort had terraces with steps leading to the bank of the river. The eastern side was very well protected from the hazards of flood waters. This positioning discouraged invasion by enemies.

Derawar

Derawar Fort is located in the Cholistan desert, 48km from Dera Nawab Sahib, near Bahawalpur. The 40 bastions of the fort are visible from many miles across the Cholistan. The walls have a circumference of 1500 metres and stand up to 30 metres high.

The first fort on the sight was built by Rai Jajja Bhati, and it remained in the hands of the royal family of Jaisalmer until it was captured and rebuilt by the nawabs of Bahawalpur in 1733.

In 1747, the fort moved from the hands of Abbasis, in the reign of Nawab Bahawel Khan, and Nawab Mubarak Khan regained the stronghold in 1804.

The front has a vast ground with two ancient tanks which were used for defence. On the west side of this ground were underground rooms of the Ameer of Bahawalpur. A separate portion inside was reserved for the royal ladies. The doors, floor and roofs of this royal section were made of wood with exquisite art work.

Ranikot

The fort at Ranikot, Sindh, is one of the largest in the world, having the circumference of about 29km. The fort stands on the Lakki Mountains of the Kirthar Range at a distance of 30km from Sann and 262km from Karachi.

The fort is an example of the great strength and valour of those who built it. And this fort is also an enigma, as nobody knows for sure who built it and why. This magnificent fort is difficult to access because the road leading to the fort passes through a desert.

Some researchers and historians believe that the fort is likely to have been built by the Arabs, possibly by a Persian noble under the Abbasid Imran Bin Musa Barmaki, who was the governor of Sindh in 836CE. However, others suggest that it could have been built by Sassanian Persians and some even link it to the times when the Greeks came to this region.

Archaeologists suggest that it was first constructed around the 17century CE and the present structure was reconstructed by two of Talpur Mirs, Mir Karam Ali Khan and Mir Murad Ali in the early 19th century.

The fort has a unique location, with its massive undulating walls, which twist and dip over the hills, and are visible from miles. Most of the 20km long wall is made of natural cliffs and barricades of mountain rocks which, at places, rise as high as two thousand feet above sea level. Only about 8.25km of the wall is manmade, built with yellow sandstone.

Ranikoat is surrounded by four gates. The entrance gate is called Sann gate with oval pillars, the western gate is named Mohan, on north side is Amri gate and Shah Pir gate is at its south.

Ranikot has two more fortresses inside it, Meeri and Shergarh fort. These fortresses were built under the personal supervision of the Talpur ruler Nawab Wali Muhammad Khan Laghari, in the early 19th century.

Altit

Altit Fort was built some 900 years back and is located three kilometres from Karimabad, in Altit village, built on a steep mountain which is 1000 feet higher than the Hunza River that flows at the back of the fort.

The fort is a tourist's attraction and is currently being restored by some private trust and support programme.

Baltit

According to historians, the foundation of Baltit fort dates back around 700 years. In 16th century, the Mir of Hunza married a princess of Baltistan. As part of her dowry, the princess brought with her Baltit masons, carpenters and craftsman, and she renovated the building and gave the fort a new look.

This impressive fort gives you a panoramic view of the valley; you can see the Hunza River, mountain Rakaposhi, etc. The fort was the property of the Mirs of Hunza for several centuries, but in 1945 they abandoned it and moved to a new palace down the hill.

In 1996, Mir of Hunza, Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan, donated this historical fort to Baltit Heritage Trust for renovation. The fort reopened in 1997 and now has a museum and cultural centre. In 2000, the Baltit Fort got Tourism of Tomorrow Award; in 2004, UNESCO awarded the Asia-Pacific Heritage for Cultural Conservation- Award of Excellence.

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