1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kabul

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KABUL, the capital of Afghanistan, standing at an elevation of 6900 ft. above the sea in 34° 32′ N. and 69° 14′ E. Estimated pop. (1901), 140,000. Lying at the foot of the bare and rocky mountains forming the western boundary of the Kabul valley, just below the gorge made by the Kabul River, the city extends a mile and a half east to west and one mile north to south. Hemmed in by the mountains, there is no way of extending it, except in a northerly direction towards the Sherpur cantonment. As the key of northern India, Kabul has been a city of vast importance for countless ages. It commands all the passes which here debouch from the north through the Hindu Kush, and from the west through Kandahar; and through it passed successive invasions of India by Alexander the Great, Mahmud of Ghazni, Jenghiz Khan, Baber, Nadir Shah and Ahmad Shah. Indeed from the time of Baber to that of Nadir Shah (1526–1738) Kabul was part of the empire of Delhi. It is now some 160 m. from the British frontier post of Jamrud near Peshawar.

Kabul was formerly walled; the old wall had seven gates, of which two alone remain, the Lahori and the Sirdar. The city itself is a huddle of narrow and dirty streets, with the Bala Hissar or fort forming the south-east angle, and rising about 150 ft. above the plain. The Amir’s palace is situated outside the town about midway between it and the Sherpur cantonment which lies about a mile to the north-east. Formerly the greatest ornament of the city was the arcaded and roofed bazaar called Chihâr Châtâ, ascribed to Ali Mardan Khan, a noble of the 17th century, who has left behind him many monuments of his munificent public spirit both in Kabul and in Hindustan. Its four arms had an aggregate length of about 600 ft., with a breadth of 30. The display of goods was remarkable, and in the evening it was illuminated. This edifice was destroyed by Sir G. Pollock on evacuating Kabul in 1842 as a record of the treachery of the city.

The tomb of the Sultan Baber stands on a slope about a mile to the west of the city in a charming spot. The grave is marked by two erect slabs of white marble. Near him lie several of his wives and children; the garden was formerly enclosed by a marble wall; a clear stream waters the flower-beds. From the hill that rises behind the tomb there is a noble prospect of his beloved city, and of the all-fruitful plain stretching to the north of it.

After the accession of Abdur Rahman in 1880 the city underwent great changes. The Bala Hissar was destroyed and has never since been entirely rebuilt, and a fortified cantonment at Sherpur (one side of which was represented by the historic Bemaru ridge) had taken the place of the old earthworks of the British occupation of 1842 which were constructed on nearly the same site. The city streets were as narrow and evil-smelling, the surrounding gardens as picturesque and attractive, and the wealth of fruit was as great, as they had been fifty years previously. The amir, however, effected many improvements. Kabul is now connected by well-planned and metalled roads with Afghan Turkestan on the west, with the Oxus and Bokhara on the north, and with India on the east. The road to India was first made by British and is now maintained by Afghan engineers. The road southwards to Ghazni and Kandahar was always naturally excellent and has probably needed little engineering, but the general principle of road-making in support of a military advance has always been consistently maintained, and the expeditions of Kabul troops to Kafiristan have been supported by a very well graded and substantially constructed road up the Kunar valley from Jalalabad to Asmar, and onwards to the Bashgol valley of Kafiristan. The city ways have been improved until it has become possible for wheeled vehicles to pass, and the various roads connecting the suburbs and the city are efficiently maintained. A purely local railway has also been introduced, to assist in transporting building material. The buildings erected by Abdur Rahman were pretentious, but unmarked by any originality in design and hardly worthy representation of the beauty and dignity of Mahommedan architecture. They included a new palace and a durbar hall, a bridge across the river and embankment, a pavilion and garden laid out around the site of Baber’s tomb overlooking the Chardeh valley; and many other buildings of public utility connected with stud arrangements, the manufacture of small arms and ammunition, and the requirements of what may be termed a wholesale shop under European direction, besides hospitals, dispensaries, bazaars, &c. The new palace is within an entrenchment just outside the city. It is enclosed in a fine garden, well planted with trees, where the harem serai (or ladies’ apartments) occupies a considerable space. The public portion of the buildings comprise an ornamental and lofty pavilion with entrances on each side, and a high-domed octagonal room in the centre, beautifully fitted and appointed, where public receptions take place. The durbar hall, which is a separate building, is 60 yards long by 20 broad, with a painted roof supported by two rows of pillars. But the arrangement of terraced gardens and the lightly constructed pavilion which graces the western slopes of the hills overlooking Chardeh are the most attractive of these innovations. Here, on a summer’s day, with the scent of roses pervading the heated air, the cool refreshment of the passing breezes and of splashing fountains may be enjoyed by the officials of the Kabul court, whilst they look across the beauty of the thickly planted plains of Chardeh to the rugged outlines of Paghman and the snows of the Hindu Kush. The artistic taste of the landscape gardening is excellent, and the mountain scenery is not unworthy of Kashmir. It is pleasant to record that the graveyard of those officers who fell in the Kabul campaign of 1879–1880, which lies at the northern end of the Bemaru ridge, is not uncared for.

Kabul is believed to be the Ortospanum or Ortospana of the geographies of Alexander’s march, a name conjectured to be a corruption of Urddhasthâna, “high place.” This is the meaning of the name Bala Hissar. But the actual name is perhaps also found as that of a people in this position (Ptolemy’s Kabolitae), if not in the name of a city apparently identical with Ortospana, Carura, in some copies read Cabura. It was invaded by the Arabs as early as the thirty-fifth year of the Hegira, but it was long before the Mahommedans effected any lasting settlement. In the early Mahommedan histories and geographies we find (according to a favourite Arabic love of jingle) Kâbul and Zâbul constantly associated. Zâbul appears to have been the country about Ghazni. Kabul first became a capital when Baber made himself master of it in 1504, and here he reigned for fifteen years before his invasion of Hindustan. In modern times it became a capital again, under Timur Shah (see Afghanistan), and so has continued both to the end of the Durani dynasty, and under the Barakzais, who now reign. It was occupied by Sir John Keane in 1839, General Pollock in 1842, and again by Sir Frederick, afterwards Lord Roberts, in 1879.

Kabul is also the name of the province including the city so called. It may be considered to embrace the whole of the plains called Koh Daman and Beghram, &c., to the Hindu Kush northward, with the Kohistan or hill country adjoining. Eastward it extends to the border of Jalalabad at Jagdalak; southward it includes the Logar district, and extends to the border of Ghazni; north-westward it includes the Paghman hills, and the valley of the upper Kabul river, and so to the Koh-i-Baba. Roughly it embraces a territory of about 100 m. square, chiefly mountainous. Wheat and barley are the staple products of the arable tracts. Artificial grasses are also much cultivated, and fruits largely, especially in the Koh Daman. A considerable part of the population spends the summer in tents. The villages are not enclosed by fortifications, but contain small private castles or fortalices.

See C. Yate, Northern Afghanistan (1888); J. A. Gray, At the Court of the Amir (1895); Sir T. H. H. Holdich, The Indian Borderland (1901).  (T. H. H.*)