Old  Kandahar


A. H. Habibi


The region of Kandahar has a long history. The agricultural valleys of Helmand, Arghandab and Tarnak lie side by side. In pre-historical times these pastures served the initial human civilization that had moved to the area. About six thousand years ago a group of nomadic people lived here. A large number of artifacts related to these people have been discovered from the Dehmorasi and Mandigak mounds. Further archeological excavations may reveal additional pre-historic artifacts since the geographic location of this area, with regards to water, land and pastures was conducive to to early human settlements. It is possible that, beside the Helmand, Arghandab and Tarnak rivers, other smaller rivers also flowed in this region, which may have gone dry now. Researchers believe that the dry riverbed of Keshki Nakhud, was a large river in the past, which provided water to the surrounding pastures in the desert. The original humans, who lived in Mandigak, took advantage of these pastures.

A thousand years before Christianity, when the Aryans came to Afghanistan, they settled in the northern and southern regions of Afghanistan. The vast valley of Aracozia was included in this area which is the present day landmass of Kandahar and Arghandab.

In 330 BCE, Alexander of Macedonia conquered the Aracozia region coming there by way of Herat and Seistan. He established the city of Aracozia Alexandria there which may be the old city of Kandahar. There are two accounts regarding the presence of this city.

First that this name may be derived from Gandofaris (Kadphises). This king, from the Parthian family, reigned from Seistan to Taxila during the first century CE. The present day region of Kandahar was a center of his empire.

Henry Walter Bellew, who was in Kandahar in 1872, in page 22 of his book, Races of Afghanistan, states that toward the end of the 5th or the beginning of the 6th century CE, the Gandari tribes, also mentioned by Herodotus, present in the eastern regions of Afghanistan, were sent to the Arghandab valley, as a result of pressure from the Hepthalite tribes. They named the city after them. This incident took place after 520 CE since the Chinese traveler, Faxian, mentions Buddha’s cup to be present in the Great Temple of Peshawar. Later the Gandahari people took the cup to Kandahar. This cup was present, until 1360, in the shrine of Sultan Wais and is now preserved in the Kabul museum. The name of Kandahar existed during the 7th century CE. Al-Belazari, the Arab historian, writes when the Islamic conquerors reached the area by way of Seistan and Bost, they captured Kandahar. The people of the area were known to wear tall hats. These kind of hats, called tesh, were in fashion, until the Afghan war of independence (1918).

It is surprising to note that during the second, third and fourth centuries of the Islamic era, Arab and non-Arabic historians, do not mention the name of Kandahar. But instead call the area Rakhj, Kohak, Panjwayee and Taginabad.

During the Ghaznavi period only the name of Taginabad is mentioned but after the 13th century we see the name of Kandahar once again in historical documents while the moniker, Taginabad, completely disappears.

 According to the Arabs, Rakhz or Rakhj, was the name of this region. Its center, Panjwayee, is present until the present day. The name Kohak, is also alive until this day. I think that during the time of king Alaptagin or Subuktagin, the name of Kandahar was officially converted to Taginabad. This name existed until the time of the Subuktagin family’s reign in Ghazni. But we do not have any historical evidence regarding this conjecture.

During the 7th century Hijera (13 century CE) Menhaj Seraj Jouzjani, the author of Tabakat-e Naseri, does not mention the name of Kandahar at all and only refers to Tagainabad. This is a time when the Mongol raids were taking place in the region around 620 Hijera (1223 CE). But around 680 Hijera (1282 CE), Saifi Herawi, author of History of Herat, mentions the name Tagainabad but considers the citadel of Kandahar, as a separate place. It looks as though Taginabad was located toward the west of present day Kandahar in the Garmaw and Nahr-e Seraj area. Regarding this issue I presented all my historical evidence in Aryana Journal earlier.

At any rate we do not see Taginabad’s name after 700 Hijra (1301CE) at all. In 1383, when Amir Timur (Tamerlane) sends Amir Haji Saifuddin to capture Kandahar, the administration of the place is left to Amir Saifal Kandahari. This account has also been written by the author of Majmal-e Fasihi.

From Safar Nama of Sharafuddin Yazdi we know that during the 14th century Kandahar was among the regions conquered by Amir Timur and the mentioned Amir Saifal Kandahari was among the people who accompanied Timur during his conquest of India.

At the time of the Timuri kings of Herat Kandahar was a part of their large domain. Around 1417, Mirza Shah Rukh, and later Sultan Hussainbai Qara appointed a prince as the administrator of the city. In Mutla’ Sa’dain, Rawzat-al-Safa, and Habib-al-Sayr, and other historical books of the time Kandahar has been considered to be an important city of the Timuri kings of Herat.

Toward the end of the 15th century the Timuri empire became weak. Their domain came under attack by the Uzbek, Shaibani Khan, from the north and from the east they were threatened by Safavi kings. During this time the sons of Amir Zualnun Arghuni, Shah Beg and Mohammad Muqim, who were among rulers of the Timuri empire of Herat, took control of the region from Farah to Kandahar and the Bolan valley. However, they were facing Shaibani Khan and the forces of Emperor Babur stationed in Kabul. In the end Babur captured Kandahar in 1507 but after this the city was sometimes in the hand of the Mughal kings of India while later the Safavi forces would come and take over the city. But the actual authority of the city remained under the Ghalji’s of Kalat or the Abdali’s of Herat and Arghasan.

From 1505 to 1649 Kandahar was periodically under the influence of the Babur family. Sometimes the Mughals were in control of the city and at other times it was administered by the Safavi kings. The administrators of the rival powers remained in the fortress and only safeguarded the roads in the region. When the Safavi forces captured the city in 1649 they were in control of the place until 1707 when Haji Mirwais Khan started his national movement and freed Kandahar from foreign dominance.

During this time the old city of Kandahar was located at the eastern base of Koh-e Laka or Qaitul hill. The fortress and palace were situated on top of the hill. The city extended from Chilzena as far as Lakhshaka. Abu-al-Fazl states the city had two forts with a moat around them. The Narenj palace was the residence of the king. Mir Masum writes that a monastery existed on top of the Qaitul hill in former times. The city had the following gates:

The Gandigan and Shaikh Wali gates were located toward the north, in direction of Chilzena. To the south was the Mashur gate and to the east were the Nau and Khezi gates. The Ali Qapi gate was located toward the Qaitul hill.

Nawab Samsan-al-Dawla, the author of Maasir-al-Umra, mentions another gate in the eastern part of the city as the Wais-e-Qarn gate. The Sultan Wais mausoleum exists in the eastern sector of the old city until the present time. The author of Padshah Nama writes that during the time of Emperor Shah Jahan, the fort was repaired at a cost of eight hundred thousand rupees.

Abu-al-Fazl, in Akbar Nama, states there was an older city  located toward the Mashur gate and the Narenj palace was also called Burj-e Khacha (Aqcha). The palace was situated inside the fortress and there was another fort inside the city, at the base of the hill, where munitions were stored.

An engraving in Greek and Aramaic script, which has been inscribed below the Chilzena staircase, was written on the orders of Emperor Ashoka around 230 BCE. This shows that the old city of Kandahar may have existed at the time at this location. The old city was destroyed in 1737 by Nader Afshar after a siege of one year.

With the fall and destruction of the city the Hotak kingdom also came to an end. However, in 1747, when Ahmad Shah Baba established the great Afghan empire, he built the new city of Kandahar to the northeast of the old city.