The Old City of Kandahar Before its Destruction


Abdul Hai Habibi


The ruins of an old city can be seen to the west of present day Kandahar. Certain relics of this city are visible among the ruins such as government offices, the palace, the citadel, moats and the city gates.

The city was occupied in 1737 by Nader Afshar after a siege which lasted for a year. The last king of the Hotak family, Shah Hussain, defended the city for a year with valor. After the fall of the city he was sent to Mazendaran under the orders of Nader Afshar.

It is not my intention to provide a history of the city but with the help of historical documents I would like to discuss the geographical status of the city.

The old city was located toward the eastern flank of the Laka or Qeitol hill. This hill has a north-south location. The citadel was constructed on top of the hill. According to Abu-al-Fazl, the city had two citadels. They were strongly fortified and the length of their walls was 60 yards with a moat around it. This citadel was built by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, at a cost of eight hundred thousand rupees. In the middle of the citadel stood the high structure of the palace which is now known as the Narenj Palace.† It is located about 100 meters above the valley floor.

Remnants of this royal palace exist up to this day. There were other structures in the city and historians mention the Khaksar and Now towers. The remains of water storage ponds and other structures are also evident. Mir Masum writes that in former times a fire-worshipping temple existed at this location. The building of the temple was in existence until the time of the Mughal king, Akbar, and was built with bricks which measured nearly two yards in length and had a thickness of 9 inches. It is said that during the reign of Shah Jehan there were three towers on the hill.

Mughal historians have repeatedly talked about the fortress of the city and its strength. The city was occupied and reoccupied during the battles which took place between the Mughal and Safavi families. Before Babur, the city belonged to the Arghuni family. In 1507 it was conquered by Babur from Shah Beg Arghuni but after the passing of a few months it was retaken by Shah Beg Arghuni. However, during the month of July 1520, Babur took control of the city and made peace with Shah Beg.

A year later Babur returned and once again occupied the city on September 14, 1522 and left Prince Kamran in charge of it. In 1536 the city was besieged by Saam Mirza under the order of Tahmasap Safavi. Kamram fought against the Safavi forces and defeated Saam. A year later, king Tahmasap, himself came and besieged the city again and Khwaja Kalan Beg, who was the administrator of the city under Kamran, left the city to the Safavi forces. When Kamran heard about the fall of the city he rushed back to Kandahar from Lahore and took control of it. Badagh Khan, who was appointed as the administrator of the city, surrendered and Kandahar was once again taken over by Kamran.

A few years later when the Mughal Emperor Homayun, came to Kandahar from Iran, Kandahar once again fell into the hands of Homayun on September 12, 1545 while Baram Khan was its administrator. In 1554 Homayun himself came to the city from Kabul and left it in charge of Bahadur Khan Seistani and Mohammad Shah Gheljai (Kalati). Three years later fighting took place between these two persons and the Safavi family brought back their forces and managed to detach Kandahar from the influence of the Mughal kings.

In 1595, Shah Beg Khan Kabuli, under the tutelage of King Akbar, took control of the city from the Safavi forces. When Akbar died in 1605 the Safavi army once again attacked Kandahar but Jahangirís men managed to reach Kandahar in time and evicted the Safavi forces from Kandahar.

For the next few years Kandahar was administered by officials of the Jahangir court but in March 1622 Shah Abas Safavi took back the city from the Mughals and it was under the Safavi administration until the end of Shah Jahanís period. On March 7, 1638 Shah Jahanís soldiers took back control of the city and Sayed Khan became its administrator. For the next ten years the city was administered by Shah Jahanís followers until Shah Abas Safavi himself came back with a large force, and after intense battles, managed to conquer Kandahar on February 21, 1649 ending Mughal influence over the city. He left a force of 10,000 men, under the command of Mehrab Khan, to protect the city.

After the passing of a few months Shah Jahan entrusted Prince Aurengzeb to take charge of the city. He besieged Kandahar on May 25 1649 but as a result intense defense by Mehrab Khan the Mughal forces were forced to break the siege after four months.

Two years later, Shah Jahan once again sent Prince Aurengzeb with a large force and besieged the city. The city was under siege for two months and eight days. After a number of fierce battle Aurungzeb failed to take control of the city and returned back to India in failure. The next year Prince Darashuko came back to Kandahar with a large force. For the next five months fierce battles took place between the Mughal and Safavi forces but Mehrab Khan was able to defend the city successfully and the Mughal† soldiers were forced to retreat. Following these events the Mughal empire became weak and it was unable to meddle into the affairs of Kandahar.

In 1707 when Haji Mirwais Khan, the national leader, declared the freedom of the Pashtun nation, the Safavi administrator was in Kandahar but was defeated and killed by freedom fighters. From 1707 until 1737 the city was the center of the Hotak kingdom. A year later it was destroyed by Nader Afshar.


Gates of the City

Historians have described several gates of the city. They are:

The Gandigan and the Shaikh Wali gates in the northern sector of the city.

Mashur gate in the southern part of the† city and the Nawae gate in the eastern sector.

Moreover the Khezri and Ali Qapi gates have been mentioned by Abu-al-Fazl, but Nawab Samsam al-Dawla, states that there was another gate by the name of Wais Qarn. This is because until the present time there is a shrine toward the eastern part of the cityís ruins by the name of the Sultan Wais shrine. We can say that the gate existed in the eastern part of the city.

Hence three sides of the city had gates and the Qaitul hill formed the western edge of the city. The northern and southern gates, Gandagan and Mashur, were named after two villages which are present until mow. Shaikh Wali is the famous saint also known as Baba Wali. During the siege of Nader Afshar the gate was called the Baba Wali gate. When Nader took control of the city he held a court meeting outside the gate. The Khezri gate has been named after the Khwaja Khezr spring. This gate was located in the eastern sector of the city.


Other Buildings

Abu-al-Fazl writes: The Qazi Shamsuddin Ali garden, Chardara and Mashur gates were located in the southern part of the old city and the tower inside the palace was named Aqcha. In 1623 when Gahj Ali Khan was the Safavi governor of Kandahar he made a garden which was called the Gahj Ali garden. The Jaba Khana fort was located at the base of the hill and a long bazaar extended from the fort to the Mashur gate.

Char Bagh garden was located toward the north-west of the city along the banks of the Arghandab river. This famous garden provided greenery to the city. Abu-al-Fazl states: This is an exhilarating place. When Homayun returned from Iran he lived in the garden. The garden was started by Emperor Babaur.


Kandahar, the Minting Center

Kandahar was a minting center throughout the Mughal period. At the beginning of the 17th century a large number of copper coins were minted in Kandahar. Emperor Jahangir minted coins in the old city of Kandahar during twelve calendar years. On the 14th year of Jahangirís kingship a coin was minted which contains the following verse.

†††† Jahangir, son of King Akbar

†††† Minted a coin in Kandahar.

After the Mughal period Kandahar was the capital of the Hotak family. As such gold, silver and copper† coins were minted in the name of Shah Hussain Hotak.


The Narenj Palace

As mentioned earlier the royal palace of the city was known as the Narenj palace. Relics of this palace remain until the present time.

The present ruins of the palace indicate that it was built nearly 100 meters above the valley floor and was probably five or six stories tall. It was square in shape and each side of the building was about 100 meters long. It had strong fortifications and long tunnels. Mohammad Hotak, who worked in the palace, writes that it was located inside the city and the king, Shah Hussain Hotak, held court there with scholars in his library.

From this statement we can deduce that it was a large and extensive building. It was a royal palace where the king lived. It is likely there were different sections in the palace for the royal court and library which were different from the living quarters of the king. In short we can say that the Narenj palace was in use during the time of the time of the Hotak kings and it was used to foster literature and sciences during the reign of the Pashtun king, Shah Hussain Hotak. Mohammad Hotak talks about the court which was held there on a regular basis. During this time Pashto poetry was recited in the court and the king also recited his poetry during such meetings.

We can say that the Narenj palace acted as a place where Pashto literature was nourished and preserved. Pata Khazana (Hidden Treasure) is a very valuable and important book of literary work from that period which we have in our disposal.