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(34,676 words)

(Kābol), capital of Afghanistan, also the name of its province and a river.

(Kābol), capital of Afghanistan, also the name of its province and a river.

A version of this article is available in print

Volume XV, Fascicle 3, pp. 280-318


Kabul is part of a system of high level basins, the elevation of which varies from 1,500 to 3,600 meters, extends—geographically speaking—beyond the administrative borders of the present-day province and includes large parts of the neighboring provinces Parvān and Kapisa on its northern flank. Drained by the Panjšēr in the north and the Kabul river in the south, the Kabul-Panjšēr basin epitomizes a tectonic depression zone framed by high mountains of old rugged crystalline and metamorphic Paleozoic rocks. The mountain ranges surrounding the basin are the southern slopes of the Hindu Kush, reaching an average altitude of 5,000 meters in the north and east, and the Paḡmān chain with an altitude of about 4,000 meters rising to the summit of the Taḵt-e Turkoman (4,696 m) in the west and southwest. The average elevation of the basin ground filled with probable Neogene and Pleistocene sediments is about 1,800 meters. Having been deeply cut into the terrestrial sediments interspersed with layers of clay, marl, and sandstone, the river system carved out deep and narrow gorges difficult to pass. These ravines form considerable barriers impeding the regional traffic on the one hand, but on the other hand they played an important role in the settlement history of the region (see ii, below). The area of Kabul is bounded by the hilly tracts of Meydān Wardak Province in the southwest and the Lōgar valley in the south.

The Kabul-Panjšēr basin divides up into five distinct geographical zones: first, the Kabul basin, bound by lower mountain chains of Precambrian gneisses, including the plain of Deh Sabz in the north; second, the Kōh Dāman (“mountain skirt”), comprising the foothills between the Ḵayrḵāna pass in Kabul and the mouth of the Ḡorband river; third, the Parvān-Kapisa plain, watered by the Panjšēr and the Ḡorband rivers; fourth, the Kōhestān, located at the northern and northeastern margins of the basin; and fifth, the Sāfi mountains, separating the city of Kabul and the eastern Kōh Dāman from Kōhestān.

The basin of Kabul is dominated by the Kabul river and a mountain range running in a northeast-southwestern direction. Coming from the southwest, the river breaks through the mountain chain and forms an impressive valley, which narrows further down in the ravine of Deh Mazang between the Kōh-e Asmāʾi (2,110 m) in the north and the Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza (2,222 m) in the south (see KABUL RIVER). The core of the city is directly located between the southern bank of the Kabul river and the Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza. While the Kabul river protects the city on its northern side, the hills on the left bank of the river and the marshy tracts stretching to the east up to the Tapa-ye Maranjān form additional barriers. To the north and northeast the city is bounded by the Tapa-ye Bibi Mahru, the hill of Kulula Pušta, and the Tapa-ye Šahrārā. Beyond these hills an area of marshland extents toward the airport. A similar swamp marks the eastern limits of the urban outskirts, describing a wide sweep between the Maranjān hill and the eastern slope of the Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza. Between the Tapa-ye Maranjān and the marshland situated off the hill and the Bālā Ḥeṣār, a passage opens up toward the Lōgar valley.

On its western side the Afghan capital is flanked by the densely populated valley of Čārdeh. The valley is enclosed by the hills running from Ābšahr to the Sorḵ Kōtal in the north; by the Kōh-e Asmāʾi and Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza in the east; by the Kōruḡ mountain in the south, and in the west by the Kōh-e Čungur and a spur that slopes down from the ridge east of the Sorḵ Kōtal. In the opposite direction, the Tang-e Ḡāru (see also KABUL RIVER) and the Lataband pass mark the eastern end of Kabul. The gorge of Tang-e Ḡāru extends about five miles below Pol-e Čarḵi to a point above the village of Gogamand, or for about a distance of nine and a half miles. With steep cliffs towering at some points perpendicularly up to a height of 5,000 feet above the river, the Tang-e Ḡāru is nowhere more than 100 yards in width, and in some places not more than 20 yards. An alternative route bypassing the Lataband pass runs directly through the gorge. The Lataband pass connects Kabul with the city of Jalālābād and the eastern border with Pakistan. It reaches a height of 7,950 feet at its summit and is covered with masses of snow in winter, so that the Tang-e Ḡāru is often used alternatively for transport and traffic.

Separated from Kabul by a ridge of lower mountains but geographically belonging to Kabul proper, the area of Kōh Dāman extends to the north and forms, together with the Parvān-Kapisa plain, the so-called Šomāli (“northerly”). From Kabul, the Šomāli plain is accessible through a set of passes piercing the mountain north of Kabul. First, it can be entered via the Kōtal-e Siāh Bini in the southwest; second, through the Sorḵ Kōtal stretching from Arḡandeh toward the Kōh Dāman through the Paḡmān valley; third, via the Kōtal-e Ḵayrḵāna, which provides at the present the most frequented access route from the north to Kabul. The Kōtal-e Māmā Ḵātun and Kōtal-e Zemma are less frequented, while the Rāh-e Gusfand (“sheep path”) is easier to pass through a gorge to the north (Adamec, 1985, p. 445, citing an 1880 report).

With a length of about thirty miles and a width varying from four to twelve miles, the Kōh Dāman forms a long stretch of land extending along the foot of the Paḡmān range, which makes up its western boundary toward the Helmand river valley; its southern limit is marked by a low range jutting out nearly at right angles from the Paḡmān mountains, separating the Kōh Dāman from the Čārdeh valley. Loosened by the winter frost, much debris, splintered rocky fragments from the granite peaks above, and heavy boulders are strewed over the plain on the base of the Paḡmān. The average elevation of the Kōh Dāman proper is about 5,000 feet. At the town of Čārikār the area of Kōh Dāman merges with the Parvān-Kapisa plain, which is bounded by the Kōhestān and the Parvān valley to the north. Here the three rivers Ḡorband, Panjšēr, and Parvān (also called Sālang river) issue from the mountains and water the Šomāli plain. On its northern margins some flat-terraced undulations add a further picturesque dimension to the kaleidoscope of the basin. On its eastern side, the plain is bounded by the Rēg-e ravān (“moving sand”), a stretch of sand dunes adjoining the Panjšēr river. The Kōh Dāman is filled with large alluvial deposits of enormous extent, especially in its southern part. In the north, these deposits level off and take the form of rather small foothills near Istālif. This is the result of diminishing water capacities of the rivers and mountain creeks coming from the Paḡmān range. The water level improves just at Čārikār, which is watered by the Ḡorband River (Grötzbach, 1990, p. 208). Because of its extraordinary fertility Kōh Dāman, as well as the entire Šomāli, is considered the “Garden of Kabul.” The area is famous for its great variety of fine grapes and vineyards. Besides, apricots, peaches, apples, walnuts, and pears are cultivated in numerous orchards.

The mountainous area of Kōhestān, also called Kabul-Kōhestān, forms the northern edge of the Kabul-Panjšēr basin in a horseshoe made up by strongly intersected mountain spurs. Leading over to the Hazārajāt (see HAZĀRA) and northern Afghanistan respectively, the Ḡorband and Parvān valleys provide the most important arterial roads, ending with the Šēbar and the Sālang passes. The most prominent valleys to the east are Tagāb (Tagāo) and Nejrāb (Nejrāo) traversed by the rivers of the same name. This region consists mainly of faulted, dissected limestone massifs with some intrusive epliolites bordered by gneisses and igneous cliffs in the east (Dupree, 1973, p. 12).

The Nejrāb valley is said to be an extremely narrow, remote corner which is famous for its grapes and mulberries. In its upper part the valley branches out in several steep side valleys and glens. The Kora Kandāb pass connects Nejrāb with the head of the neighboring, more open Tagāb valley, through which the Tagāb river runs from north to south. Tagāb is a very fertile area and produces pomegranates for the Afghan capital (Adamec, 1985, pp. 604-6).

Climate. Afghanistan’s capital is known for its favorable and mild climate, because the average elevation of the Kabul-Panjšēr basin reduces the dry, arid climate typical for this degree of latitude. The main rainy season is in spring and early summer. Short and hot summers, with possible abrupt fluctuations in temperature of twenty degrees C from day to night, are characteristic for the area. Even in July the average low may drop to 14.4 degrees C. The average temperature during summer (June, July, and August) usually exceeds 30 degrees C. Since Kabul and parts of eastern Afghanistan are located at the margins of the monsoon zone, the trough of the summer monsoon reaches Kabul at the end of July or beginning of August and leads to a considerable increase in humidity. During summer and autumn the phenomenon of ḵākbād, a dusty whirlwind, is very common in the afternoon. Harsh winters with frequent snowfall creating thick blankets of snow were typical in the past. In recent years drought has caused reduced snow accumulation in the lower parts of the Kabul valley. However, masses of snow frequently block the Sālang high road even in spring. In higher altitudes, many mountain ranges in the vicinity of Kabul are snow-covered until May or June.


  • Ludwig W. Adamec, Historical and Political Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI: Kabul and Southeastern Afghanistan, Graz, 1985.
  • Louis Dupree, Afghanistan, Princeton, 1973.
  • Erwin Grötzbach, Afghanistan: Eine Geographische Landeskunde, Darmstadt, 1990.
  • Helmut Hahn, Die Stadt Kabul (Afghanistan) und ihr Umland, Bd. 1: Gestaltwandel einer orientalischen Stadt, Bonn, 1964.
  • C. R., Markham, “The Upper Basin of the Kabul River,” Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, New Monthly Series 1/2, 1879, pp. 110-21.
  • Idem, “Afghan Geography,” Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London 20/4, 1875-76, pp. 241-52.
  • Carl Rathjens, “Kabul: Zur Geographie einer orientalischen Stadt und ihres Umlandes,” Die Erde 97/3, 1966, pp. 209-13.
  • Idem, “Kabul die Hauptstadt Afghanistans,” Leben und Umwelt 13, 1957, pp. 73-82.


Before the period of war and unrest in Afghanistan that started in 1978, almost all the functions concerned with governing the country and directing its international relations were concentrated in Kabul. This primacy among Afghan cities is due to an exceptionally favorable geographical site, which showed itself to advantage at the precise historical moment when the first Afghan state, founded in the 18th century, located its center of power there.


The Hindu Kush passes and the Kabul basin. The major obstacle formed by the great Hindu Kush range lying between lower Central Asia and India can be satisfactorily crossed only at a few points. The approach to Kabul from Balḵ, which used to be the main center of the northern foothills, presents two choices. One is the Sālang pass route—the pass itself or the 3,337-meter tunnel. The other, to the west, and more accessible in winter because of the lower altitude, is the road through the Āq-Rebāṭ pass, the Bāmiān basin, the Šibar pass (at 2,987 m), and the Ḡōrband valley. Both routes converge toward the confluence of the Sālang and Panjšir river valleys, where the latter provides another access northward across the mountains by way of the Ḵāwāk pass. The southern foothills of the Hindu Kush here are occupied by a large basin, at an average elevation of 1,800 meters, which slopes slightly southward, where it is drained from west to east by the Kabul river. The latter, with its tributary, the Lōgar, collects the waters of the northern slope of the Paktiā ranges before opening a route to the Jalālābād basin and the Khyber pass. These, in turn, provide direct access to the central basin of the Indus and all of northwestern India. This route from Bactria to Taxila, “the old road to India” (Foucher, p. 47) long before the area became Muslim, was always a main link between Central Asia and the subcontinent. It offers far more rapid and satisfactory passage to the Indus than the complicated passes across the Solaymān mountains, which rise to the southwest. The route farther to the west, by way of Mary (Marv), Herat, Farāh, Qandahār, and Quetta, offers the advantage of rounding the Hindu Kush and its western extension, but it is much longer and leads through almost desert-like areas. On the other hand, there is plenty of water and food along the eastern route, which cuts through the best-watered and most fertile regions, and where the Kabul basin forms a particularly pleasant resting-place.

The urbanization of the basin: from Kapisa to Kabul (Figure 1). This major communications node was bound to become a busy center of urban life, but where would the settlements be located? Logically they should have been built at the edge of the plain, overlooking the outlets of the great valleys and, if possible, their confluences. From this point of view, there are two suitable sites: in the north, one controlling access through the basin north and northwest via the Panjšir and Ḡōrband valleys to the Sālang, Šibar, and Ḵāwāk passes; and in the south, where the Kabul river, after receiving the waters of the Lōgar and the Panjšir, opens a breach in the mountains towards the Jalālābād basin. Both localities were occupied by humans at an early period, but their respective importance has varied considerably through time.

Figure 1. Kabul, with the basin of the Kabul river. 1. Water System. 2. Urban sites and pre-Islamic ruins. 3. Buddhist and Hindu remains. 4. Present settlements. 5. Roads. 6. Surface irrigation. 7. Major ridgelines in the Kabul river basin. Adapted from Hahn, 1964, p. 14. Courtesy of the author.Figure 1. Kabul, with the basin of the Kabul river. 1. Water System. 2. Urban sites and pre-Islamic ruins. 3. Buddhist and Hindu remains. 4. Present settlements. 5. Roads. 6. Surface irrigation. 7. Major ridgelines in the Kabul river basin. Adapted from Hahn, 1964, p. 14. Courtesy of the author.View full image in a new tab

The earliest urban development took place on the northern side. At the time when Alexander’s conquests united the two slopes of the Hindu Kush into one empire (329 BCE), the main settlement was situated north of the basin, on a terrace about 15-20 meters high, overlooking the alluvial bed. This was Kapisa (Katisa in Ptolemy, Geographia 6.18; Sk. Kapiśa, Chin. Ki-pin), ca. 15 km from the edge of the basin, which commanded the confluence of the Ḡōrband and Panjšir rivers. Its importance is indicated by numerous Buddhist ruins. It appears to have remained the main center of the basin for a long time. But its site, on a plain that could not easily be defended, proved a disadvantage in the face of successive nomadic invaders arriving from Central Asia, from the Sakas and the Yuezhi who overthrew the Greek kingdoms of Bactria, to the Hephthalites, who supplanted Sasanian rule, to be followed by Turks and Arabs.

The major urban center tended gradually to migrate toward the south of the basin, which presented a more suitable defensive site. The Kabul river, flowing from southwest to northeast in this sector, here cut a deep, epigenetic valley within a rocky range 300 to 400 meters above the average level of the plain, between the two ridges of the Kōh-e Āsmāʾi (2,110 m) to the north and the Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza (2,222 m) to the south. Between the secondary ranges and the river, there was space sufficient for developing a village protected by the fortifications built on the heights, and particularly the Bālā Ḥeṣār, at the easternmost side of the Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza, which was to be the strong point dominating the city up to the present. To the north, the course of the Kabul river itself provided additional protection, while to the east there were marshy places making it difficult to approach. (On the geographic setting, see, e.g., Humlun; Hahn, 1964-65, I, pp. 9-18; Grötzbach, 1990.)

The urban center that emerged here for a long time competed with the northern one, and in fact it is unclear how the newer town came to prevail. Although the name of the Kabul river appeared very early in the sources, that of the city, in its definitive form, properly appeared only in the 8th century CE. The existence of one or several built-up areas at this site much earlier, however, is beyond doubt. Ptolemy (6.18.4) states that this region (the Paropamisadae [see GANDHĀRA]) had a town called Karoura (or Kaboura)—evidently a transcription of the local name. He cites another city at the same place: Ortospana, which Strabo (11.8.9) describes as being an important crossroad with three roads leading to Bactriana. Perhaps there was, as has been suggested (Berthelot, p. 290). a double city, on both sides of the river. The name appears again a little later, in the 5th century, in the Chinese sources, under the form Kau-fu, which is evidently a transcription of Kaboura. Also in the Chinese sources, the name of Gandhara before the arrival of the Hephthalites in the 4th century CE is given as Jep-poʿ-lo. J. Markwart (Ērānšahr, pp. 246-47) suggested derivation from a form *ǰābul or the like, representing “Kābul,” and cited Indian coins of about the same period carrying the title ṣāhi ǰawūwlaḥ/ǰabula, possibly “king of J.” In any case, there is no doubt that an important commercial center, perhaps the seat of a political power bearing the same name as the river, existed south of the basin at this period. But what were its relations with Kapisa, and what was the date of the transfer of power to the southern town?

It is still impossible to provide a precise answer to this question, which can only be solved by archeology, but it is certain that this transfer took place shortly before the settlement of the first Muslim armies in the region. During the 1st-2nd centuries CE, the city of Kapisa (see BEGRĀM) was the seat of the summer palace of the last Kushan kings (Fraser-Tytler, p. 21). For the time of the Hephtalites (4th-5th cents. CE), there is no certain way to find out the respective situations of the two urban centers, but the fact that Fa-Hsien, in the early 5th century, mentions only Kapitha is an indication that Kapisa’s predominance continued (Fa-Hsien, p. 24). As late as the mid-7th century, we may gather from Hsuan-Tsang’s text that the main center was still situated there. On the eve of the first Muslim incursion, in 653-54, Arabs arriving from Sind found in Kapisa the seat of a kingdom of that name. A vassal of China, it was ruled by Hinduized Turks—the Turkshahi dynasty—who spent the summer in Kapisa and wintered in the Indus valley. But under them were numerous subject rulers, and there soon appeared a state centered on Kabul (ǰabula), which gradually gained in importance (Markwart, Ērānšahr, p. 289). From 720 on, the tekin of Kāwasān (Kušān) acknowledged the supremacy of the ruler there, and by 778-79 the latter’s Muslim envoy credited him with the title of šāh (Markwart, Ērānšahr, p. 291). Probably the superiority of the site of Kabul was confirmed in a troubled period when the region was a border zone, under the constant threat of Muslim troops. In the late 9th century CE, the Hindushahis reigned there. They had succeeded the Turkshahis in 850 and were subdued after 870 by the armies of the Saffarids (Bosworth, p. 35).

From the Tajik city to the Afghan capital. It would take a millennium beforethe urban concentration at Kabul, with its favorable natural conditions, acquired a major political role and ultimately became the capital of a state centered on the highlands and controlling access to India. During this entire period it continued to occupy a merely marginal position as a military base and frontier post, without any central function. During the early period following the Muslim conquest, it continued to serve merely as a distant support point for the Samanids (819-1005 CE), then for the Ghaznavids (977-1186 CE). The Ghaznavid center of power was situated some 200 km to the west, and the expeditions into India were organized from there. Kabul, although near the countries ruled by non-Muslims, was simply the seat of an important garrison and the army assembly point. For example, here in 1031 Sultan Masʿud reviewed 1,670 war elephants (Bayhaqi, ed. Fayyāż, p. 376; Bosworth, p. 116). Kabul’s role remained purely local under the Ghurids and the kings of Chorasmia, and also later, after its destruction by the Mongol armies, under the Timurids, whose authority was firmly established in Herat. For all these states, the center of gravity and interests lay exclusively on the plateau. Relations with north India, where the Sultans of Delhi asserted their independence from the early 13th century, were not a major preoccupation that enhanced the strategic value of Kabul.

Ẓahir-al-Din Bābor’s conquest of India in 1526 revealed, for a time, the strategic significance of Kabul. Once he had firmly established his rule in Delhi and Agra, he began, in the hot and humid torpor of the Ganges plains, to feel nostalgic for the city that he had seized in 1504 after fleeing from the Uzbeks. Kabul had been the starting-point of his fortunes, and he appreciated its rural environment and pleasant conditions. In his memoirs, he constantly praised the numerous advantages of this small city: “mountain, river, city, lowland in one” (Bābur-nāma, fol. 129a-b; tr. Beveridge, p. 202; Planhol, 1974, p. 157); “the citadel of Kābul … lying high in excellent air, and overlooking the large pool … and also three meadows … a most beautiful outlook when the meadows are green” (fol. 128b; tr., p. 201); its “very pleasant climate; if the world has another so pleasant, it is not known” (fol. 129b; tr. p. 203). He had a magnificent garden laid out on the slope of the Šāh-e Kābol (also called Šēr Darvāza) hill, where he wanted his tomb to be built (Bābor-nāma, tr.’s note, pp. 710-11; Burnes, I, pp. 141-42).

The sovereigns of the dynasty of the Great Mughals were as fond of the city as their ancestors had been, and one of the young princes often stayed there. It was difficult, however, for them to govern an immense empire extending far into the subcontinent from this remote outpost of their possessions. Under their rule, Kabul played a purely military role as the base of their operations against the Safavids and Uzbeks, from whom they claimed respectively Qandahār and Badaḵšān.

Throughout the medieval period, however, Kabul continued to carry out the important commercial function that its geographical position dictated. Already in the 9th century, Yaʿqubi (Boldān, p. 291; tr. Wiet, p. 106) noted that it was frequented by merchants, who exported from there a regional specialty—myrobalan (ahlilaj), a kind of condiment made of fruits and dried grains, which was astringent and much used in Muslim medicine. In the 10th century, the description provided by Ebn Ḥawqal (p. 450; tr. Kramers and Wiet, pp. 435-36) presents it as a major center of caravan routes, with busy markets and warehouses, where several communities coexisted. Muslims, Jews, and Hindus lived in their separate quarters in the suburbs, while only Muslims lived in the city proper. The Hindus, whose presence is constantly mentioned by the sources (e.g., Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, p. 104; tr., p. 111; comm., pp. 346-47; Eṣṭaḵri, p. 280; Moqaddasi, p. 304) and who were evidently characteristic of the city, imported the products of their own country, above all indigo, of which Kabul was the great center of distribution for the Muslim countries of the Middle East. The city was also the center of a textile industry, producing cotton fabrics and expensive handkerchiefs and scarves that were exported to Sind and to Khorasan and as far as China. This rich, industrious city may for that period be included within the list of the forty-four most important cities of the Muslim world (Miquel, IV, p. 204).

This picture clearly changed after its destruction by Čengiz Khan’s armies in the early 13th century. Ebn Baṭṭuṭa, who visited the city in the 14th century, found it reduced to the rank of a simple village inhabited by a tribe of Persians called “Afghans” (tr. Defrémery and Sanguinetti, III, p. 89), which apparently implies that the Pashtuns had settled there in the ruins after the massacre of the population of Tajik artisans and traders. The advantages of the city’s geographic position, however, were substantial enough to bring about rapid revival—already by Bābor’s time (early 16th cent.), when the city was again active and its commerce was thriving. It was possible to buy merchandise coming from Asia Minor (Rum), Iraq, Khorasan, and China. Caravans converged there from all parts of Central Asia: Kāšḡar, Farḡāna and Turkistan, Samarqand and Bukhara, Badaḵšān, Balḵ, and Ḥeṣār (Šādmān in Transoxania). Kabul was “Hindustan’s own market,” where 8,000 to 10,000 horses were collected each year destined for India; and from the subcontinent arrived caravans of 10,000 to 20,000 merchants bringing slaves, white (cotton) fabrics, raw and refined sugar, and spices. This trade brought in considerable profits, on the order of 300 to 400 percent (Bābur-nāma, fol. 129, tr., p. 202). In its relations with India, Kabul was considerably ahead of its only competitor, Qandahār, which dealt in little more than merchandise from neighboring Khorasan.

How then did this purely commercial center finally manage to acquire political leadership? The emergence of a power center within the Pashtun tribes in the early 18th century did not itself alter the destiny of this Tajik city. The first Afghan state was built from Qandahār, at the heart of the Pashtun country, and was oriented initially toward the conquest of Persia rather than of India. After the Afghan incursion into Persia (1722-27; see ḠILZI) was repulsed, Nāder Shah Afšār (r. 1736-47) eventually turned to his eastern frontiers. He seized Kabul in 1738 on his way to invade India and, on his return, settled there a Persian garrison of about 3,000 men, the Qizilbash (Qezelbāš, Tk. Qızılbaç: the name applied to the Shiʿite Turkoman tribes who supported the establishment of the Safavid state, and later to Shiʿite Turks generally). They were to mark the city profoundly, and traces of them are still discernible in the composition of the city’s population (Marvi, II, pp. 563-66; see below and AFGHANISTAN iv). Following the assassination of Nāder Shah (11 Jomādā II 1160/9 June 1747), Aḥmad Khan, who had served as the head of the Abdāli contingent in Nāder Shah’s army, was elected by a tribal council (Pashto jirga) as the king of the Afghans and was crowned in Qandahār in 1747 as Aḥmad Shah (r. 1747-72), Dorr-e Dorrān (hence the epithet Dorrāni; on him see AFGHANISTAN x).

The subsequent expansion of the first Afghan state into India to form a Dorrāni empire (1747-1826) was conducted from Qandahār, although it would clearly have been easier to control relations with the lowlands of India from Kabul. It seems that no such strategic vision led Timur Shah (r. 1773-93), the son and successor of Aḥmad Shah, to transfer his capital to Kabul in 1773-75; it was simply a historical accident in the time of troubles after the death of Aḥmad Shah in 1772 and the ensuing competition for the throne among his sons. The rebellion against Timur, Aḥmad Shah’s chosen heir, found abundant support from the Qandahār region and the neighboring tribes, while Timur relied on the originally foreign garrison of Kabul. With his fondness for tranquility, he naturally felt more secure there, even after his power was stabilized (Elphinstone, p. 559). It is not impossible that he also considered the ease of communications with India, but there is no supporting evidence. The move was, in any case, a decisive turning point for the city, which from then on never ceased to retain the country’s central leadership.


Beginnings: the period of instability (1775-1880). For more than a century Kabul was not able to derive any benefit from its new function to develop into a true center of political authority. The gradual diminution of the first Afghan kingdom began soon after the death of its founder. The transfer of the capital from Qandahār to Kabul alienated the Pashtun tribal leaders in whose territory Qandahār lay. There were uprisings in the north and northwest, and the rise of Sikh power in the south eventually forced the state, starting from the first third of the 19th century, to abandon its possessions in India to the Sikhs. In contrast to his father, Timur Shah did not designate any of his many sons to succeed him, which led to the rise of several pretenders to the throne, each representing a different tribal faction through matrimonial connection. There were also the two Anglo-Afghan Wars (1839-42 and 1878-80), the first of which caused a great deal of destruction in the city. The sovereign’s power was greatly curtailed at this time, and it was only with extreme difficulty that he could exercise any authority in Afghanistan beyond his capital. All these events long prevented the development of a true capital.

At the same time, however, the city received, from the installation of the court there, an important impetus to growth of population and commerce in the last quarter of the 18th century and the early decades of the 19th century. Descriptions by British travelers provide us with an idea of the appearance of the city and the activities there during this period (Figure 2). The most significant ones include the travelogues of George Forster (II, pp. 72-84; travel in 1785), Montstuart Elphinstone (pp. 601-2), Durie (travel in the early years of the 19th century; cited by Elphinstone), Alexander Burnes (I, pp. 133-70; II, pp. 334-36), Charles Masson (II, pp. 227-90; travel in 1831, residence 1835-38; an essential source), Godfrey Thomas Vigne (pp. 154-226, travel in 1835), and Mohan La1 (pp. 67-79, travel with Burnes in 1832).

Figure 2. Kabul, gate of the bazaar, 1839-40, lithograph. After James Atkinson, Sketches in Affghanistan, London, 1842; repr., The London Illustrated News 73/2054, 9 November 1878, p. 433. Courtesy of Butler Library, Columbia Library in the City of New York.Figure 2. Kabul, gate of the bazaar, 1839-40, lithograph. After James Atkinson, Sketches in Affghanistan, London, 1842; repr., The London Illustrated News 73/2054, 9 November 1878, p. 433. Courtesy of Butler Library, Columbia Library in the City of New York.View full image in a new tab

The activity of setting up a court led to a large increase in population, which had already begun previously due to the strategic significance of Kabul as a point of departure for expeditions to India. The new arrivals included an ongoing stream from Persia, almost all of them Turkish-speaking, who came, sometimes in groups with their families, sometimes alone, to seek their fortune with the Pashtun dynasty. They were encouraged by the royal favor enjoyed by the Qizilbash (see above), who had remained in Kabul after Nāder Shah’s assassination and joined the service of Aḥmad Shah, who enlisted them in his guard. They became an essential instrument of the king’s power, beginning at the time of troubles that marked the accession of Timur (see above), who was suspicious of his own people and made the Qizilbash the basis of the troops to ensure his own safety.

This military role gradually declined in the early years of the 19th century. The Qizilbash then found other occupations, especially as secretaries at the service of the Pashtun princes. They spoke among themselves Turkic dialects more or less related to the Azeri group, and both Aḥmad Shah and Timur Shah spoke to their head men in their language. But many were well versed in Persian, and the general language of communication in the town was Persian. Qizilbash also worked as physicians and, more mundanely, in the city’s trade and industry. In the 1830s, their total number probably was 18,000 to 20,000, possibly half the total population (see below). As Shiʿites, a large majority of whom were members of Sufi brotherhoods, they formed an element quite distinct from the Tajik population, who were Sunnite and made up the original population base. Also present, but in much smaller numbers, were the Hazāras of the central mountains, who were likewise Shiʿites but followers of a popular religion without an organized hierarchy; they were attracted to the court to seek odd jobs. The Pashtun segment included the members of the ruling class and their dependents.

Non-Muslim communities were also present. There was a significant Armenian colony, joined by some Georgians (Forster, II, pp. 72, 77, 93; Burnes, I, pp. 148-49, 160; II, p. 331; Masson, II, p. 255). Their roots there were certainly old and connected with trade, but their number grew considerably in the reign of Aḥmad Shah. The latter had, during his expeditions in Persia, transported major groups of them to Kabul, especially from (New) Julfa (Pers. Jolfā; see JULFA), but also from Mashad, and had enlisted them, like the Qizilbash, in his personal guard (Forster, II, p. 93) They continued in favor in this employment until the reign of Timur, when they constituted about a hundred families. They suffered under his reign, however, from Timur’s neglect of his troops, and by 1783 they had fallen into a state of relative poverty. They nevertheless kept up a lucrative trade in wine and spirits, which they did not shrink from procuring for the Muslim inhabitants of the city, a traffic that they shared with some Jews. This trade continued until the day when Dōst Moḥammad Khan (first r. 1826-39), in the early years of his reign, apparently wishing to be forgiven for the debauchery of his youth, formally prohibited any trade of alcoholic drinks in his city, thus completely ruining their business. The community dispersed, and there remained merely twenty-one homes when Burnes passed through a few years later. The number of Jews had, for the same reason, declined to a mere three families by that time (Burnes, I, pp. 148-49; II, p. 331).

The Hindus, whose number depended on the trade with the subcontinent, appeared to have formed a more stable community. They were already numerous in 1783, having come mainly from Peshawar, and one of them served as Timur Shah’s treasurer. In the early 19th century, the high, wooden houses of the Hindu traders drew attention in the bazaar and displayed the prosperity of their group, which controled the major part of the fabric and cloth trade (Durie, apud Elphinstone, p. 602). In 1832, Mohan Lal estimated their number, with perhaps a certain exaggeration because they were his compatriots, at about 2,000, with shops in all the bazaars of the city. These figures are hardly compatible with the data provided by Vigne, according to whom there were only a small number of Hindus, who made a living mainly from moneychanging, for which they had no competition. It was, however, all the more difficult for Vigne to miss them, since their clothes and the painting of their faces made them quite distinct (Forster, II, pp. 82-83; Mohan Lal, p. 74; Vigne, p. 165).

As was the custom in Muslim cities, various nationalities were, for the most part, grouped each in its own quarter, and the whole city was neatly subdivided. The royal city—the king’s residence—occupied the lower slopes of the easternmost part of the Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza, below an old and already ruined fortification. This Bālā Ḥeṣār Pāyān quarter had about 1,000 houses, with an apparently very mixed population. Apart from the Qizilbash guards, there were separate quarters for the Arabs, the blacks (slaves or descendants of slaves), and the Armenian traders. Immediately outside of the palace, there was a special bazaar for supplying all this part of the population that revolved around the court (Masson, II, pp. 255-59). The majority of the Qizilbash, those who still lived grouped according to their divisions into clans, dwelt west of the city in the separate quarter of Čendaval, which was a simple village in Bābor’s time. Its own separate wall fell into ruins in the first half of the 19th century. It had a bazaar and comprised 1,500 to 2,000 families, according to some (Masson, p. 260), 2,500 according to MacGregor (p. 529).

A sizeable number of the Qizilbash, about 1,500 families, were non-tribal and lived mixed with the native Tajik population in the old city. This area extended from the Kabul river to the foot of the royal quarter and numbered about 5,000 houses. It had an important bazaar of the “bazaar-street” type, with shops stretching along the two main roads, which were more or less parallel. A more structured section had arcades surrounding a square space opening onto four perpendicular streets in the manner of Central Asian bazaars. Unlike the latter, the old city bazaar was open to the sky and not covered by a set of domes. Its construction was attributed to ʿAli Mardān Khan, the governor at the time of Jahāngir (r. 1605-27). The bazaar expanded, especially after the advent of the Pashtun dynasty, reflecting the growth of the town at this period. In the 19th century it had about 2,000 shops (Burnes, II, p. 335) and about fifteen serais (caravansaries, warehouses), some of which had been built in Timur’s reign by foreign merchants, who used them as their residence (Forster, II, p. 73). The old city was no longer surrounded by walls in the early 19th century, a sign of the security provided by the Pashtun dynasty.

Several suburbs had developed on the northern bank of the river by this time and were connected to the city by a number of bridges or wooden gangways (Masson, II, pp. 263-65; MacGregor, pp. 422-23), which often were in a deteriorated state and more or less repaired. These northern suburbs were inhabited mainly by newly arrived Pashtuns. Descendants of the earliest Qizilbash to arrive (at the time of Nāder Shah) also occupied a separate fort three miles from the city.

Our only sources about the size of the city’s population are the memoirs of Western travelers. Burnes’ estimates of 60,000 (I, p. 147), accepted by Vigne (p. 165), and Masson’s of 50,000 to 60,000 inhabitants (II, p. 260), followed by MacGregor (p. 422), were based on an estimate of 9,000 to 10,000 houses. These figures, however, seem somewhat high. The area of the old city could not have been over 50 sq ha (Forster, p. 79; he estimated the circumference of the wall at about 1.5 miles), and it is hard to admit that it could actually have contained 5,000 houses. A figure lower than 50,000 inhabitants appears more likely and would come closer to the estimates regarding the Qizilbash, who formed “more than half of the population” (Masson, II, p. 260).

It appears, in any case, that all the elements of this very diverse population were on good terms with one another. Travelers unanimously pointed out the general atmosphere of religious tolerance “to a degree that was rarely seen in a Muslim country,” as well as the civility in relations between different groups, with no prejudice and no sort of fanaticism (Forster, pp. 77, 100; Mohan Lal, p. 74). Even when there were some political difficulties between the Shiʿites and the Sunnites, or between Shiʿites from Kabul and Hazāras, everyday relations among various communities continued as usual without being affected (Masson, II, pp. 298-99). This feature contrasted with the well-known crudeness of the Pashtun tribes. Kabul left on all visitors of the period an impression of amiable cosmopolitanism, which expressed the concept of the first Afghan kingdom.

This feeling of congeniality found expression in the festive habits of the city and in the profusion of gardens, which were regularly visited. Many of them were private properties, but they were always open to the public (Burnes, I, pp. 151 ff.; Vigne, pp. 175 ff.; Masson, II, pp. 280-86). The price of this joie de vivre was, however, a certain moral laxity, an “immorality” that became notorious. The women of Kabul had a bad reputation. “The flour of Peshawar is not without a mixture of barley, and the women of Kabul are not without lovers” (Mohan Lal, p. 73), said a proverb. The morals of the Qizilbash were particularly disparaged both for their wine drinking and their women’s lack of virtue (ibid.). It appears evident that this community of uprooted mercenaries, whose role had been decisive in the population’s makeup, lent the city its tone. As lovers of wine, gardens, and various kinds of pleasure, the people of Kabul might at the time have been considered “a holiday people” (Masson, II, p. 280).

The city, nevertheless, was busy and industrious; trade and crafts, more than court service, formed the basis of prosperity as the Dorrāni empire flourished. The economic role of the town evidently benefited greatly from its new political status as the capital city (MacGregor, pp. 424-23; an essential source based on an unpublished report by Masson). In this humble Tajik village that had grown to become the capital of an extensive empire, new techniques and occupations began to flourish. A period of intense innovation in crafts ensued, mainly under Persian influence. The quality of this small provincial city’s products was very mediocre in the beginning. “There is not a single article made and produced in Kabul that is not surpassed by those of other countries,” was the written opinion at the time (Masson, p. 289; Masson in MacGregor, pp. 423-24), and all of it was destined for the lower classes.

The presence of the court created needs that people tried to satisfy partially through local production. A silk industry was created in the city for the first time in about 1815 by Maḥmud Shah b. Timur (r. 1809-18), whose patronage attracted Persian artisans from Herat. It was successful, and by the 1830s there were already eighty-eight active looms in the city (Masson in MacGregor, p. 427). At the same time there was an attempt, again by Persians, to develop manufacturing of glass for bottles, drinking glasses, etc., but its success was still incomplete a few years later and its quality “just merely acceptable” (Masson in MacGregor, p. 428). Sugar and sweets were also produced in Kabul from sugar cane of the Jalālābād region, but these products remained very inferior in quality compared to those of India (Masson in MacGregor, p. 428). The local craft industry, on the whole, produced only very simple objects, and all articles of a superior quality had to be imported. For example, Kabul had to import various iron manufactures, such as weapons or wire, even though it smelted iron from the local mines into bars.

External trade was thus definitely unbalanced. Kabul at the time exported hardly anything beyond the same products that had always formed the basis of its trade with India, including horses (a large number of which came from Central Asia and were only in transit), raw hides, and dried fruit. To Qandahār it exported regional products, including iron bars, hides, and lamp oil, and received in exchange large quantities of good-quality melons, as well as products coming from Persia (Forster, p. 82). The existence of the court turned the city into a great center of consumption, for which the supply network extended to India, on the one hand, and Russia, by way of Bukhara, on the other. The competition for supplying the Kabul market in the first half of the 19th century posed interesting problems.

The import trade from India was still very active in the second half of the 18th century, when Kabul was largely supplied with cotton and various other fabrics through the Khyber pass and from Peshawar (Forster, p. 82; Durie in Elphinstone, p. 602); but it considerably declined in the early 19th century. This was due to the diminishing of Afghan possessions in the subcontinent, and especially to bad relations between the Kabul government and the Sikh empire, which preempted it in northwestern India. In the years 1820-30, the only really active trading activity between the Sikh domain and Kabul was carried out by the large annual caravan of the Lohāni (MacGregor, pp. 586-88), a commercial branch of the powerful Pashtun tribe of the Powinda. They wintered in the middle and lower Indus valley, purchasing merchandise in the bazaars of Lahore and as far as Varanasi (Benares). They then summered in the highlands of Afghanistan around Ḡazni and profited by reselling the merchandise in the kingdom of Kabul. They left the lowlands in April and returned in October. Scattered in both winter and summer along the route, they reassembled for their migration to form a powerful caravan that might number 600 to 700 camels and several thousand people (Mohan Lal, p. 76). This was done essentially for security reasons, for during their journey they were constantly exposed to attacks by Waziri looters, who plagued them whenever they could. This happened especially when they crossed the Solaymān mountains, which they did by way of the Gōmal valley and pass, before the road became safer towards Quetta and Qandahār.

It was only through the Lohāni that there arrived in Kabul an appreciable quantity of merchandise from India and that, in the 1820s and 1830s, commodities reached Afghanistan from Great Britain. These objects, conveyed via Bombay, were mainly luxury fabrics and high-quality cotton, copperware, fine cutlery, quicksilver, sugar, and sweets. This long and dangerous itinerary could not seriously compete for the Kabul market with the northern route, where, despite the crossing of the Hindu Kush, there was total security. Only the Lohāni, who were both soldiers and caravan leaders, ventured the southern route in large numbers, thanks to their clan-like solidarity (Masson in MacGregor, p. 431).

The imports that arrived in Kabul from the north included not only products from Central Asia, but also objects in transit through Bukhara, coming from China, Russia, and even from the rest of Europe. The paradox was that British merchandise also arrived in Kabul by this route transshipped through Saint Petersburg. Imports of luxury fabrics (silks, velvets, and satins), silver and gold objects, elaborate metal products (steel, iron and copper wire, pins, and objects made from copper and brass), and mercury sent by the northern route competed with those of the south. The north, however, had a real monopoly of certain products. Thus, all the paper used in Kabul arrived from there, as well as material for red dye (cochineal), while indigo continued to come from India (Masson in MacGregor, pp. 426-29).

The merchants of the Kabul bazaar had agents much farther away than Bukhara, as far as Orenburg and Astrakhan. From China came ceramics and tea, the latter becoming increasingly popular in Afghanistan. On the whole, the predominance of these northern products was obvious in Kabul, and was continually confirmed (ibid.), during the early period of Moḥammadzāy rule (1826-1973). Indeed much of the merchandise transported by the Lohāni, such as copper products from Bombay, could no longer compete in Kabul with those of the northern route and no longer went any farther than Qandahār (ibid.). Thus Kabul lost all the strategic advantages derived from its relative proximity to India, which had enabled it gradually to outstrip Qandahār at the time of the Dorrāni empire. This led to a period of relative stagnation in the city that was to last for half a century.

This situation continued, and became worse, after the First Anglo-Afghan War (see ANGLO-AFGHAN WARS) and the destruction of the Kabul bazaar; it was burned in 1842 by the British punitive expedition in retaliation for the massacre a year earlier of the retreating British garrison of Kabul. However, there is not enough information about the evolution of trade during the forty-odd years between the two Anglo-Afghan wars, since no British observer could enter Kabul during this period. All we know is that the commercial activity of the Lohāni continued, but its intensity is difficult to assess. The bazaar was gradually rebuilt after the departure of the British troops, in accordance with a plan that gave it an appearance hardly differing from the preceding one (Hensman, pp. 66-67); and the covered sector was restored, apparently as it had been before, by Amir Dōst Moḥammad Khan around 1850 (Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI, p. 329).

The city’s population in the late 19th century is difficult to estimate. According to the census taken by the order of the Amir Šēr ʿAli in 1876, the total population amounted to 140,700 inhabitants (including 103,000 Kabulis, 12,000 Tajiks, 4,000 Hindus, 3,000 Kashmiris, 6,500 Qizilbash, 5,000 Pashtuns, and a very small number of Armenians and Jews; see Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI, p. 33). It appears difficult, however, to accept this figure as that of the city alone, in terms of the estimates provided both for the previous period (see above for the 1830s) and for the following one (see below for the period of World War I and the 1920s). It is probable that the census of 1876 applied to the entire district (not differentiated from the city, according to an established custom in Muslim sources; Grötzbach, 1990, p. 37) and that the population of the city proper had hardly varied since the 1830s. An observer who had arrived with the British troops in 1879 (Hensman, p. 66) provided a plausible estimate of 70,000 inhabitants for 23,000 houses.


The new royal quarters (1880-1930). The last two decades of the 19th century marked the real unification of Afghanistan, both as an organized state and as a fully controlled one, by the strong grip of Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān (r. 1880-1901; see AFGHANISTAN x). From then on, the authority of the Amir of Kabul over the territory remained uncontested. For a long time to come, however, the part played by the city remained almost exclusively political and military, while its economic and social hold over the rest of the country remained weak. The half-century following the accession of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān was unquestionably a period of expansion for the city, but growth came about largely through the establishment of a supreme and efficient authority, a new power that expressed itself in the urban fabric. The concrete expression of power was to be the building of a new royal residence, taking the form of a quarter separated from the old one.

Two projects, undertaken forty years apart, endeavored to develop this idea, although in very different ways and with very unequal results. The first was initiated by ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān, who, immediately after his accession to the throne, decided to abandon Bālā Ḥeṣār and transfer his residence, with all the trappings of royal power and the military forces connected with them, to the north of the river. Bālā Ḥeṣār had been partly destroyed by an explosion of the arsenal during the British occupation of 1879 (Hensman, pp. 71-74). The British then planned to destroy it completely but did not have time to carry out their project; however, the site as a whole was in such a state of decay that the new king decided firmly to abandon this unattractive place (Hensman, pp. 78, 129). A large space was available north of the river among the hamlets and villages scattered around the plain. It was also easy to settle the troops in the broad cantonment of Šērpur, which Šēr-ʿAli Khan had built (Shadbolt, p. 62) a few years before the Second Anglo-Afghan War, not far from the site of the British cantonment during the first war (Eyre, pp. 30-34 and map). The new royal palace was built in a few years and was in use by 1888, although the harem then was not yet completely finished and occupied (Yate, pp. 361 ff.). About 800 meters from the river, the palace and a cluster of subsidiary buildings, within a complex of gardens, occupied a rectangular space enclosed by a simple mud wall. ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān himself approved the plans (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Kabul, 1916. After Niedermayer; repr. and corrected, Hahn, 1964, p. 24. Courtesy of the author. Courtesy of Butler Library, Columbia Library in the City of New York.Figure 3. Kabul, 1916. After Niedermayer; repr. and corrected, Hahn, 1964, p. 24. Courtesy of the author. Courtesy of Butler Library, Columbia Library in the City of New York.View full image in a new tab

A great novelty desired by the sovereign was that all the government functions should be concentrated in the palace building or adjacent ones. Thus, offices were provided for numerous clerks, who previously worked in scattered locations, sometimes even in their own homes, so that their activities could not easily be coordinated. Nearby, a number of barracks and military installations were built, which were gradually followed by villas of dignitaries or members of the royal family, dispersed in a landscape which remained rural for a long time. The style of the buildings, which can be described as “Victorian,” broke completely with the Islamic tradition of the old city. This royal quarter was completed after World War I with the installation of embassies of foreign powers, which in increasing numbers formed diplomatic relations with an Afghanistan now (since 1919) totally independent from British control of its foreign relations.

The urban fabric became increasingly dense between the river and the new center of attraction thus created, as well as near the village of Deh-e Afḡānān to the west. Small neighborhood bazaars sprang up there, at first spontaneously, but then subject to formal planning early in the reign of Amir Amān-Allāh (r. 1919-29; see AFGHANISTAN x): two- or three-storey buildings, with the ground floors occupied by shops, were built along the river to replace older, more rudimentary structures (Hahn, 1964-65, I, pp. 24-26). In any case, Oscar von Niedermayer’s city plan of 1924 (see ibid.) based on data collected during the residence of the German military mission in Kabul in 1916 during World War I, already showed a dense and continuous urban fabric north of the river. This “new city” that was now juxtaposed with the old city was modeled after the ones that proliferated in Persia in the late 19th century and in the Arab Middle East under Ottoman domination. It was, however, much more modest than the latter.

Development north of the river remained slow and limited until the 1920s. This was consistent with the state of the country; it had not yet really entered into the phase of modernization and by no means functioned as a true unity (except for the existence of a superior political power), especially in regard to its economy. There was a deliberate process of a quite different scope inherent in the grandiose ambitions of rapid transformation that took root in the mind of Amir Amān-Allāh. No doubt like Amir-ʿAli and Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān before him (Wild, p. 81), he was excited by the idea of creating a new “metropolis” to which his name would be attached, thus following a deeply rooted custom among Muslim sovereigns. In contrast to his predecessors, he acted. Amān-Allāh was deeply impressed by the example of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, whom he greatly admired and whose policy of rapid westernization of Turkey, including the transfer of the capital from Istanbul to Ankara, he tried to imitate by a violent break with the old urban fabric. He chose an entirely new site on a plain with scattered hills about eight kilometers southwest of the old city, beyond the slopes of the Kōh-e Āsmāʾi and Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza, on the left bank of the river.

Here was rapidly constructed in the first half of the 1920s the building of the Dār-al-Amān quarter, which bore the name of its founder. The amir dreamt, above all, of building a healthy, airy city, far from the miasmas of the old town that he had vainly tried to have cleaned up and developed in the early years of his reign (Pernet, p. 26), a venture he had soon recognized as impossible. He wanted to make this new creation of his a “scientific” city, a model of organization and happiness (Fouchet, p. 43; Gregorian, p. 247). The plan was conceived by André Godard, a French architect who had previously worked in Persia; he was now in Afghanistan for the excavations for which the French archeological delegation (see DÉLÉGATIONS ARCHÉOLOGIQUES FRANÇAISES) had received the monopoly. It included, on the plain, a central traffic circle from which radiated six main avenues. Two hills dominated it, on the flattened tops of which the royal palace and the (intended) parliament building were erected. A broad, straight avenue with poplars on each side led to the old city of Kabul, which was also to be connected by a narrow-gauge railroad. This was the first railroad actually built in Afghanistan; the initial plan was to extend it to Jalālābād, which continued to be the winter capital (MacMunn, p. 307). By 1925, the foundations of the two palaces had been laid, and they began to rise on top of the two hills. At the same time, modern-type villas appeared along the avenues (Pernot, pp. 26-27). In 1928, the palace was practically finished, and Amān-Allāh, during his long tour of Europe, was busy buying furniture to decorate the interior (Fraser-Tytler, p. 211).

The rebellion of 1928-29 and the fall of Amān-Allāh interrupted this obviously premature dream (see BAČČA-YE SAQQĀ). When Nāder Shah (r. 1929-44) recaptured the throne in 1929, the royal power was again installed in the palace north of the river. Dār-al-Amān then became for a number of years a kind of phantom city, although its existing buildings were used for public purposes. In the 1950s, the palace became a hospital, and the intended parliament building became the Ministry of Labor. In the same period other buildings were allocated to the Ministries of Mines and Health, and newer agencies also came to be housed there (e.g., the Geological Service, the Hydrographic Service, the Bacteriological Institute, the Meteorological Institute). This lent the area, starting in the 1960s, the appearance of an annex of Kabul University, which rapidly developed at this time on the west side of the city. The university also completed the installation of Kabul Museum, which was regularly being enriched with finds—requiring much space—from the increasingly numerous archeological excavations. Dār-al-Amān, at first isolated due to its high-level activities, became progressively more urbanized and linked to the city center by several bus lines. During 1960-75, it finally became fully integrated into Kabul city, acquiring the aspect of a modern city quarter with a mixture of public buildings and fine residences. This happened half a century after Amān-Allāh’s visionary conception, which was evidently much in advance of its period but whose outcome was much more modest than the one originally envisaged.

The emergence of central functions (1930-80). After the failure of Amān-Allāh’s hasty and adventurous attempts in the 1920s, from 1930 on, a truly prudent and reasonable, and gradually more efficient, way was found to modernize Afghanistan. Kabul was the pole toward which Afghanistan’s movement toward modernization and innovation was oriented. It was also to be its first and principal beneficiary, receiving from the beginning the great majority of new urban infrastructure and attracting to itself the flow of a great mass of new inhabitants. It was gradually to acquire a growing and effective hold on large pieces of the broad territory that it theoretically ruled. The question remains whether, on the eve of the revolution of 1978, the dominance of Kabul actually rendered it the real control center of the Afghan space, one with an impetus that carried through the whole country. If so, one may still wonder how and in what stages this process of securing control took place. The numerous studies from the 1960s and 1970s (see Hahn, 1964-65, I, pp. 73-77; Barrat; Planhol, 1973; idem, 1995, pp. 665-69) permit one, without going into details, to be specific about the level of supremacy Kabul had reached by 1978.

Only a very small number of Afghan cities had higher-level economic and administrative functions at the time, and Kabul’s privilege was overwhelming as far as urban facilitieswere concerned. The modern banking system was exclusively centered there. At Qandahār, Herat, and Mazār-e Šarif, it was possible to exchange foreign currency in the bazaar, but there was no banking activity properly speaking. Kabul also acquired branches of almost all the firms that were responsible for the country’s economic activity, except for the carpet trade in Herat and the karakul fur trade in Mazār-e Šarif. A graph of medical and hospital equipment (Figure 4, a) shows that in 1967 Kabul had 452 physicians out of a total of 527 in Afghanistan, and 1,322 hospital beds out of 2,217 for the whole country. University education was still entirely concentrated in Kabul in 1970, except for a medical institute in Jalālābād. In 1974, the number of students in higher education amounted to almost 8,000. Literacy among the city’s population was the highest in the country, at 26 percent—36 percent for men and 16 percent for women (Grötzbach, 1979, p. 50).

Figure 4. Afghanistan, urban infrastructure, ca. 1968. A. Hospital beds. 1. 10 hospital beds. 2. 50 hospital beds. 3. 100 hospital beds. - B. Telephone networks. 1. 100 telephones. 2. 200 telephones. 3. 100 telephones. 4. Less than 100 telephones. 5. Telephone lines in 1967. - C. Air traffic in 1967. 1. Less than 2,000 passengers on domestic flights. 1. 2,000 passengers on domestic flights. 3. 5,000 passengers on domestic flights. 4. 10,000 passengers on domestic flights. 5. 100 international flights. 6. 500 international flights. 7. 1,000 international flights. After de Planhol, 1993, p. 663, fig. 53. Courtesy of the author.Figure 4. Afghanistan, urban infrastructure, ca. 1968. A. Hospital beds. 1. 10 hospital beds. 2. 50 hospital beds. 3. 100 hospital beds. - B. Telephone networks. 1. 100 telephones. 2. 200 telephones. 3. 100 telephones. 4. Less than 100 telephones. 5. Telephone lines in 1967. - C. Air traffic in 1967. 1. Less than 2,000 passengers on domestic flights. 1. 2,000 passengers on domestic flights. 3. 5,000 passengers on domestic flights. 4. 10,000 passengers on domestic flights. 5. 100 international flights. 6. 500 international flights. 7. 1,000 international flights. After de Planhol, 1993, p. 663, fig. 53. Courtesy of the author.View full image in a new tab

As for media, in 1968 Kabul had only six of the nineteen Afghan dailies, but their circulation was 70,000 copies against 33,000 for all the others. It also had thirty of the thirty-three weeklies and specialized periodicals (the other three were divided among Herat, Qandahār, and Jalālābād). For postal and telecommunications services, Kabul reportedly had about 5,000 telephones out of a total of 9,210 in the entire country (Figure 4, b). Such equipment then was found entirely in the towns on the northern and southern periphery of the central mountains, and connections between the northwestern plateau and the general network were very recent. Secondary connections covered only Qandahār and Herat. In 1977, the city had about four-fifths of the ca. 50,000 automobiles in the country (Grötzbach, 1990, pp. 143, 204). In short, Kabul alone was more or less the center for all technical equipment.

It is therefore no wonder that the analysis of traffic patterns showed that most of Afghanistan’s internal and external relations started and ended with Kabul, despite the clearly off-center position of the capital in the east of the country. The graph of airport passenger volume in the late 1960s (Figure 4, c) is highly significant. Despite the fact that during the winter many international flights were diverted from Kabul, whose airport was dangerous because of the surrounding mountains, to Qandahār, which was always accessible, Kabul remained the one and only hub of the international airlines. This emphasizes its exclusive role as the “door of westernization” for the whole of Afghanistan, a function that remained unchanged in 1978 (Grötzbach, 1990, pp. 143, 204). As for internal relations, no analysis of traffic flows toward the provincial towns was made at the time, but these were obviously insignificant in comparison with those directed at Kabul.

How were these inter-city relations organized? It seems that two types can be distinguished: (1) A certain number of relations proceeded from all the provincial cities towards Kabul, in proportion to their population and their importance but conditioned by their proximity. Postal links (Figure 5, a) belonged to this category: the flow from important cities such as Qandahār, Herat, Mazār-e Šarif, and the relatively close major provincial towns (Jalālābād, Gardēz), was considerably greater than from other places. Administrative relations, as well as cultural ones in all likelihood (e.g., university recruitment), belonged more or less to this type. The pattern of passenger air traffic must have been of the same type, but with an inverting factor: a tendency to a greater flow, the greater the distance. That factor, in turn, could be affected by geography. The route across the Hindu Kush was often blocked by snow in winter and therefore dangerous to cross in that season; this added considerably to the traffic from Mazār-e Šarif and Konduz to Kabul relative to the respective importance of these two cities (Figure 5, b).

Figure 5. Flow of communication and traffic toward Kabul. A. Postal service, ca. 1968 (less than 10,000 letters and parcels is not shown): 1. 10,000 letters and parcels. 2. 20,000 letters and parcels. 3. 30,000 letters and parcels. - B. Domestic air travel, ca. 1968: 1. 5,000 passengers. 2. 1,000 passengers. C. Road travel, ca. 1968: 1. 50,000 vehicles per yeai 2. 10,000 vehicles per year. - D. Road travel, ca. 1973-74. 1. more than 1,000 vehicles per day. 2. 500-1,000 vehicles per day. 3. 200-499 vehicles per day. 4. 100-199 vehicles per day. 5. 50-99 vehicles per day. 6. 20-49 vehicles per day. 7. fewer than 20 vehicles per day. After de Planhol, 1993, p. 665, fig. 54. Courtesv of the author.Figure 5. Flow of communication and traffic toward Kabul. A. Postal service, ca. 1968 (less than 10,000 letters and parcels is not shown): 1. 10,000 letters and parcels. 2. 20,000 letters and parcels. 3. 30,000 letters and parcels. - B. Domestic air travel, ca. 1968: 1. 5,000 passengers. 2. 1,000 passengers. C. Road travel, ca. 1968: 1. 50,000 vehicles per yeai 2. 10,000 vehicles per year. - D. Road travel, ca. 1973-74. 1. more than 1,000 vehicles per day. 2. 500-1,000 vehicles per day. 3. 200-499 vehicles per day. 4. 100-199 vehicles per day. 5. 50-99 vehicles per day. 6. 20-49 vehicles per day. 7. fewer than 20 vehicles per day. After de Planhol, 1993, p. 665, fig. 54. Courtesv of the author.View full image in a new tab

(2) A second type of geographical disposition was particularly evident for the road network (Figure 5, c, d), which lies transverse to the central-eastern Hindu Kush and runs roughly north-south; it connects Kabul with the Pakistani border on one end and the cities of Turkistan and the former Soviet frontier on the other. Here the country’s great economic axis was situated, with the industrial centers on either side of the “water tower” of the eastern Hindu Kush, and along it the most active commercial relations with foreign countries. The road to Qandahār and Herat, which runs parallel to the mountains, remained fairly inactive despite the existence of a modern trunk road of great capacity (seemingly quite disproportionate to existing need), and these cities continued to appear like distant, marginal oases. Qandahār and Herat could to some degree be considered as secondary capitals, but they did not have the active economic relations with Kabul that their population and the relative importance of their urban facilities would suggest. On the whole, Kabul in the 1970s was still far from being truly the hub all of the country’s activity.

The incomplete nature of this domination of the Afghan space is indicated, in the same period, by the geographical dispersion of the recruitment pool for the city’s population. A survey of the geographic origins of 122,000 inhabitants of the city was carried out by the Ministry of the Interior in 1965 (Barrat). The two maps that show the survey results (Figure 6 = Planhol, 1973c, p. 196, reproduced in Planhol, 1993, p. 669; Grötzbach, 1990, p. 48, following the Survey of Progress, 1967-68, p. 32) differ slightly, due to the selection of different data segments. But both indicate that the pool of demographic attraction to Kabul found a natural limit to the north in the Hindu Kush barrier and remained essentially localized in the southeastern part of the country. The city’s ‘drainage area’ was primarily the provinces on the southeastern slopes of the mountains, and also the mountain valleys likewise on the southern slopes. These extend into the heart of the mountains only up to the Hazāra country (the province of Bāmiān), from which massive emigration to Kabul started from the time when Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān conquered these highlands in the 19th century. Their arrival in the 1960s reinforced a presence that had already long been felt in the city (see above).

Figure 6. The origin points of Afghan migration into Kabul, 1968. 1. More than 10 percent. 2. 5 to 10 percent. 3. 2 to 5 percent. 4. Less than 1 percent. The borders between the provinces are simplified. After de Planhol, 1993, p. 669, fig. 55. Courtesy of the author.Figure 6. The origin points of Afghan migration into Kabul, 1968. 1. More than 10 percent. 2. 5 to 10 percent. 3. 2 to 5 percent. 4. Less than 1 percent. The borders between the provinces are simplified. After de Planhol, 1993, p. 669, fig. 55. Courtesy of the author.View full image in a new tab

Attraction to Kabul remained insignificant for the rest of the country. The provinces of Qandahār, Herat, and Balḵ (Mazār-e Šarif) were exceptions, indicating emigration to the capital, though in a rather low proportion, from populations already urbanized in these large provincial cities. Kabul was not yet a center of demographic focus for the country as a whole, and that included the provinces of Turkistan on the northern side of the Hindu Kush. The Turks established in Kabul still numbered no more than 3,000 or 4,000 in the 1960s (Balland), and the opening of the road through the Sālang pass in 1964 was too recent to have had any demographic effect. It is probable, although information is lacking, that the development of economic ties and closer road links across the mountains is indicated for more recent times by increased human migration from the north. This phenomenon had not yet affected the life of the Kabulis on the eve of the communist revolution in 1978 (see COMMUNISM iv) and the civil war.


The cultural challenge. Flows of immigrants, coming essentially from the southeastern part of the country, changed Kabul, beginning a half-century ago, into an imposing metropolis (data summarized in Grötzbach, 1979, p. 46). We have seen above how difficult it is to estimate precisely the population at the time when this change began. Niedermayer (p. 20) stated 60,000 inhabitants for 1916, but merely reproducing (without update or critique) estimates going back to the British sources of the 1830s. New estimates were made only toward the end of Nāder Shah’s reign (r. 1929-33) and appeared in 1936, but they were of local origin and carried out by the recent Afghan administration (reprod. in Hahn, 1964-65, I, p. 45; Humlun, p. 131, citing Ahmad and Aziz, and ʿAli). These stated 120,000 persons, a plausible figure implying that the population had almost doubled after more than a half-century of urbanization, from the accession of Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān, and had considerably increased under Amir Amān-Allāh.

Some 20 years later, relying on oral information that he collected during his stay in the city and without a precise basis, Johannes Humlum (p. 132) raised the number to 250,000 inhabitants. In contrast, a relatively serious sampling by a service of the United Nations in 1954 stated 172,000 permanent inhabitants, to which were to be added 37,000 soldiers, students, and other transient elements. A few years later, two parallel updates of these figures, taking account of the growing birth rate of 1.75 percent per year and of the annual immigration of 3 percent per year, after a quarter by quarter survey of the city (the first ever published), reported respectively 223,000 and 230,000 individuals for 1960, without counting the approximately 40,000 non-permanent inhabitants (Hahn, 1964-65, I, p. 46). The population had again doubled, this time within a quarter of a century. It was next going to quadruple in the course of the two following decades.

From this point on, the order of magnitude in the reports became reliable, and new data rapidly followed (see CENSUS ii). A “census” in 1965 was very open to criticism, and the reliability of its figures as a whole was questioned, but it provided at least an approximate figure. It stated 435,000 inhabitants for “Greater Kabul” (including the neighboring villages and Dār-al-Amān, which was not yet included within the city area) and 290,000 for the city proper. This census was based on a questionnaire that revealed that more than a quarter of the inhabitants of Greater Kabul (i.e., 122,000 persons) had been born outside the city. Of these immigrants, 19,500 had arrived less than a year before, 44,000 from one to four years before, and 54,000 five or more years before (the rest of the sample provided no answer). Taking account of the fact that a certain number of immigrants subsequently left the city, this leads us to establish the annual rate of immigration at about 3 percent, thus raising the overall growth of the population somewhat above the ca. 2 to 2.5 percent resulting from surplus births. Later estimates, extrapolating from the census figures of 1965 on these bases (by admitting a global growth rate of 4.5 percent, which is probably underestimated), raised the population of the town to 675,000 persons in 1976 (Grötzbach, 1979, p. 46). The general census carried out in 1979 (which was probably also underestimated) stated 913,000 inhabitants for Greater Kabul (Grötzbach, 1990, p. 199). The figure must have approached one million inhabitants ca. 1980.

This growth, as well as the abovementioned geographic situation of the recruitment pool, deeply influenced the city’s ethnic aspect, which the preceding 150 years and the political role of the capital had hardly changed. The census of 1876 showed the overwhelming superiority of the local Persian-speaking and Sunnite population, while it also took account of non-native elements mentioned above—Qizilbash, Pashtuns, a small number of Hazāras, Hindus, and Armenians, plus about 3,000 Parāči-speakers, of whom there were more in the area than are found today. The population was differentiated according to purely social criteria. Of the 140,000 inhabitants of the district in 1876, there were 12,000 Tajiks and 103,000 Kabulis. The first designation applied to villagers living relatively far from the town, conscious of a particular identity that was different from that of the city, and regarding the others, that is, the city dwellers of mixed origins, with a certain feeling of superiority. They were happy to marry the latter’s daughters, but reluctant to marry off their own daughters to them (Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI, p. 333). We have no precise 20th-century estimate of the ethnic components of Kabul, since this politically explosive subject was never mentioned in the questionnaires of later surveys. The considerable increase in the number of Hazāras in Kabul in the 20th century, who left their very poor highlands for the city’s great labor market, posed problems of a religious nature due to their being Shiʿite. In this matter, they assumed the declining role of the Qizilbash, who tended to merge with the mass of Kabulis. Since the Hazāra speak a New Persian dialect very similar to Kabuli Persian (see HAZĀRA iv), their linguistic assimilation posed no difficulty.

The major new factor appearing during the last century was the progressive rise in the number of Pashtuns in the city. Pashtuns had been living in the city for a long time, quartered within circles closely revolving around the court, the culture of which was exclusively Persian to the point that the last sovereigns (and especially Moḥammad-Ẓāher Shah, r. 1933-73) spoke Persian as their mother tongue. There were also Pashtuns, in the late 19th and early 20th century, living in villages on the outskirts of Kabul. The name of one of these is toponymic evidence of their presence—Deh-e Afḡānān (Village of the Afghans, that is, of the Pashtuns), situated northwest of the city on the left bank of the river. Beginning in the 1930s they appeared in massive numbers in the city itself, but their proportion of the population is not known. L. Dupree estimated in 1975 (p. 20) that speakers of Kabuli Persian (dari; see AFGHANISTAN v, sec. 2, and KĀBOLI) were slightly more than half, and speakers of Hazāragi about a quarter (probably a little overestimated), and speakers of Pashto another quarter. This estimate is plausible, although it is not based on any precise data. In any case, it was mainly from among the Pashtuns that the newcomers were recruited. The small city of the late 19th century with its homogeneous Persian culture became a metropolis, where the two major ethnic groups of the country confronted each another, at least virtually.

The conflict was still only potential. Although the Pashtuns, together with the dynasty, for three centuries dominated the political life of Afghanistan, Kabul remained a center of Persian culture almost exclusively. There the language of communication is the local Persian, with the city functioning as a center of assimilation for all the other elements of the population, especially the minority ethnic groups. The Turks gravitated toward Persian culture, since they had come from Balḵ, where Persian was the common ethnic language of communication, but assimilation was also, and especially, the case for the Pashtuns. The efforts of the Afghan government to promote Pashto (for instance, the establishment of a Pashto Academy in 1935, and the publication of grammars and dictionaries in an attempt to standardize the language) provoked mirth, but the situation contained the germs of a fearful and dramatic conflict to come, when the ethnic groups of Afghanistan, as yet with expression muted by concern for individual destiny within the framework of interest groups, should wake to a real national awareness. How could the country’s majority group, which was responsible for its genesis as a territorial entity, and which had always monopolized power, in the long run accept a low cultural status in its own capital, which was situated a mere thirty to forty kilometers from the linguistic border? However, the demographic balance on which this primacy rested was to be threatened during the wars of the Soviet occupation (1979-89) and thereafter between Mujahidin and Taliban; the consequences of these (see below) have made themselves felt particularly in the capital.

Extensions and transformations of the urban fabric (Figure 7). The competition between Persian-speakers and Pashtuns developed chiefly during the huge topographic expansion of Kabul from the 1930s on, which made it by 1980 a metropolis that totally transcended the traditional city. In this respect Kabul conformed to a model observed to a greater or lesser degree for all cities of the Muslim world during the 20th century, but it did so in very specific ways. The development of a modern town next to the old city happened slowly and was, in its essentials, planned.

Figure 7. Kabul and environs. 1. Old City. 2. Newer quarters and suburban villages. 3. Larger industrial zones. 4. Farmlands and gardens, mostly irrigated. 5. Cemeteries. 6. Seasonally flooded wetlands. 7. Lake. 8. Main roads, paved. 9. Back roads, in part paved. B. Bālā Ḥesār. M. Military buildings. P. Palace (Arg). SN Šahr-e Naw. U. University. After Grötzbach, 1990, pp. 196-97, map 24.Figure 7. Kabul and environs. 1. Old City. 2. Newer quarters and suburban villages. 3. Larger industrial zones. 4. Farmlands and gardens, mostly irrigated. 5. Cemeteries. 6. Seasonally flooded wetlands. 7. Lake. 8. Main roads, paved. 9. Back roads, in part paved. B. Bālā Ḥesār. M. Military buildings. P. Palace (Arg). SN Šahr-e Naw. U. University. After Grötzbach, 1990, pp. 196-97, map 24.View full image in a new tab

The new quarter that gradually developed around the new royal palace north of the river remained very modest until about 1930 (while Amān-Allāh’s Dār-al-Amān was totally marginalized). At the beginning of Nāder Shah’s reign, the old city of Kabul still held nine-tenths of the city’s inhabitants—this at a time when the modern sections of cities all over the Arab and Iranian Muslim world often had become predominant, or at least were almost as populated as the traditional quarters. Construction of the Šahr-e Naw (New City) quarter started in 1935, northwest of the royal quarter on the left bank of the river and along the northern road, and was completed in 1945. The overall plan, as well as the style of the buildings, intentionally broke with the old fabric. The roads intersected in a grid pattern, thus aligning the relatively large house and garden lots (avg. 2,000 m2, min. 1,000 m2) surrounded by walls. The houses were single-storey, of a style more or less resembling the Anglo-Indian bungalow, but they were adapted to a more severe climate in winter and built of different materials: the lack of wood led to using brick, which was generally unbaked to start with, and later more often baked. There were usually four to six rooms, plus a servant’s room in a corner next to the kitchen. Windows were Western-style.

Water was supplied from tanks situated on the roofs, which were always flat, and heating was through European-type fireplaces, of which there was originally only one in each home, and later often several. Each house had an enclosed sun porch/winter garden (gol-ḵāna) with a number of windows on the sunny side. Along the streets, the walls enclosing the lots were normally continuous, with a single entrance per residence. Thus they provided an aspect intermediary between the traditional Muslim cities and that of European towns, while preserving the intimacy of family life in an already modern context. The district was laid out around an extensive public garden that included buildings for collective use (such as a center of worship, a school, a hospital), and a small number of local shops were established at the main crossroads. Embassies of countries that had recently entered into relations with Afghanistan (for example, Japan, Poland, Austria, India, Indonesia) rapidly mingled with the private residences.

This pattern was followed by almost all the later extensions to the city, which multiplied from the 1940s on. These neighborhoods were adapted to the needs of the upper and middle classes, who were joined there by an ever increasing number of foreigners after World War II. (Afghanistan was, in the 1970s, the country with the highest number per capita of foreign ‘experts,’ Westerners and Soviets in approximately equal numbers.) To the north, there was the Šērpur quarter, directly opposite Šahr-e Naw, begun in 1955; then to the northwest, on the Paḡmān road, those of Parwān Mina (1954-59) and Bāḡ-e Bālā Mina (1960); and lastly in the 1960s, again on the northern road, the very large area of Ḵayr-ḵāna. The latter was originally separated from the urban area by an undeveloped space of two to three km. This area already had 30,000 inhabitants in 1976, when a project for an additional 4,000 dwellings was launched (Grötzbach, 1990, p. 38). Development of Kārta Wali, east of the royal palace, began in the 1950s; and in the 1970s, the quarter of very modern and luxurious villas of Wazir Akbar Khan Mina was built east of Šahr-e Naw and north of the palace, on the site of the old airport. Here dwelt the highest classes of Afghan society.

At the same time, there developed outgrowths of this type here and there around the old city as well, limited only by the obstacle of the Kōh-e Āsmāʾi and the Kōh-e Šēr Darwāza promontories to the west, and by the marshy areas to the east, the presence of which required the built-up area simply to be divided into smaller lots. While the new quarters to the north and northwest were mainly occupied by the relatively well-to-do classes, these in the west, southwest, and east were settled by the middle classes. Population density remained very low in Šahr-e Naw (4,000 persons per km2, or 40 per ha) and in the northern quarters (5,000-6,000 per km2, Hahn, 1964-65, I, p. 27), but it was considerably higher here, where the average lot size was 300-600 m2, and houses were considerably smaller. The notion, however, of relatively open, airy neighborhoods that represented a transitional type of habitation between the traditional, closed-in cities and a more modern style did not change. Thus west of the gap between Kōh-e Āsmāʾi and Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza, there developed a series of new neighborhoods. Beginning in 1942, along the road to Qandahār and south of it, was Kārta Čār, of which the first portions, to the east, comprised relatively large lots; later lots were considerably smaller. After 1950, there were Kārta Panj and Jabal-e Mina, to the north of the same road and east of the university (with 120 inhabitants per hectare). Farther west, beyond the university and on either side of the road, were Kārta Deh Buri (beginning in 1948) and Kārta Deh Naw (1950); and to the southeast was Kārta Seh (1958), with larger lots and multi-storied houses corresponding to a higher social level, which connected the urban fabric to Dār-al-Amān (Hahn, 1964-65, I, p. 28). Major marshy areas east of the old city limited the developments in that direction. Nevertheless, the housing project of Kārta Šāh Šahid (with 150 inhabitants per hectare) was built in 1952 between the road to Gardēz and that to Lataband-Sarubi, followed by that of Nur Moḥammad Šāh Mina along the Lataband road, which was mainly occupied by industrial workers, whose population then increased (see below) in this eastern suburb (Hahn, 1972, p. 27).

In this eastern sector there appeared for the first time, northwest of the old town and on the southern bank of the river near the stadium, the first set of multi-storied, collective buildings. These were called the Nāder Šāh Mina, where in 1974 fifty-five large buildings were constructed, with a total of about 2,000 apartments and about 10,000 inhabitants. Fourteen buildings with 536 apartments followed in 1975, somewhat further north. This marked the sudden appearance in Kabul of blocks done in Soviet Central Asian style; they were built partly of prefabricated elements, with aid from the Soviet Union. Mainly intended for lower-level civil servants, they introduced a new collective model that expressed the growing political influence of their powerful northern neighbor and competed with the Western-style detached houses which had so far prevailed (Grötzbach, 1979, p. 28).

These planned extensions formed the major part of the city’s growth from the 1940s to the communist revolution of 1978. They surrounded the old city on all sides—except that Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza in the south and the marshes in the east had not been crossed—with new city quarters having individual names and often still separated by areas not yet subdivided. It was inevitable that spontaneous developments should spring up in the empty spaces. These were often small neighborhood shops by the roadside, put up with haphazard construction. There were, however, especially on the lower slopes of the mountains, and above all on the southern slopes of the Kōh-e Āsmāʾi and the northern slopes of the Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza, zones of a makeshift, rural or semi-rural type of house of uncertain viability and built on properties with dubious title. They did not look like downright shantytowns, which hardly existed at this period in Kabul, but they resembled them in terms of inhabitants and social structure (Bechhoefer, 1977). On the slopes of the Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza, these areas of uncontrolled colonization attracted the surplus population of the old city—its natural demographic increase—who had no more room to expand. On the slopes of the Kōh-e Āsmāʾi there lived, in the 1970s, 43 percent of the immigrant population that came directly from other parts of the province (Hahn, 1972). This population pattern was also found further from the center, in settlements of a village type dispersed in distant suburbs, especially to the southwest, but also northeast and east of the city.

In the settlements on the slopes there spontaneously developed separation by ethnic and, especially, religious group, something that seems to have been exceptional in the planned extensions. In the latter, affiliations were usually not advertised, and people’s backgrounds were diverse. The Kabul melting pot, based on assimilation to the Persian-speaking culture, here operated without opposition, and people were categorized exclusively in terms of levels of income and differences in social class or employment. But in the rudimentary housing areas on the slopes, there often arose distinct community groups. These appeared to be less marked among the Pashtuns, whose Sunnite affiliation did not separate them from the great majority of the population, while the Hazāras were imbued with their popular Shiʿism and tended to group themselves around their centers of pilgrimage (ziārat). They thus formed very homogeneous groups on the slopes of the Kōh-e Āsmāʾi (Deh-e Mazang), especially around their major shrine, the Ziārat-e Saḵi. In general, religious differentiations are much more decisive for the topographic division of ethnic groups than is linguistic diversity.


Permanence and evolution of commercial functions. Parallel to these new extensions, the old city also developed, but it did so late and slowly. The old urban fabric remained intact for a long time. But, from the end of the 19th century in the Arab countries and from 1930 in Persia under Reza Shah, roadbuilding penetrated many Old City quarters and opened them up to automobile traffic. This did not happen in Kabul until the early 1950s. The first such highway, whose construction took, until the early 1960s, was the great east-west axis of Mayvand Avenue (Jādda-ye Mayvand), which divided the old city into two almost equal parts. Starting on the west from the riverbed, below the Šēr Darvāza heights, it followed the low ground eastward to the cemetery at the edge of the city. Intersecting this road (by means of a traffic circle) was built a north-south axis, Nāder Paštun Avenue. This was much shorter than Mayvand Avenue and led northward up to the river, but to the south it did not reach the limits of the traditional urban fabric. Along these routes there were modern, usually three-storey buildings; the ground floor was occupied by shops which sold manufactured goods, but sometimes (especially at either end of Mayvand Avenue) by artisans’ workshops.

The body of the old bazaar, thus gutted, was transformed behind its old façades, and its organization became profoundly unbalanced (see Hahn, 1964-65, I, pp. 32-35; Velter et al.; Charpentier, in Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI, pp. 330-31). Probably this process of change had already begun as a result of the 1842 destruction of the bazaar and the ensuing restorations, and continued through the first half of the 20th century. The traditional, highly specialized subdivision of commercial and craft activities may already have ceased to be a rigid rule in the late 19th century. In any case, the road building of the 1950s considerably accelerated the dislocation of occupational groups. Thus, the dyers (rangrez), whose main center was destroyed by construction of Mayvand Avenue precisely through it, were disorganized and dispersed across the city (Velter et al., p. 117). It is true that a degree of re-formation of professional groupings developed spontaneously along these major avenues. For instance, merchants selling high-quality fabrics—a luxury trade par excellence—formed a number of new groups at the Mayvand/Nāder Paštun traffic circle (Velteret al., p. 34). Groups of artisans of the same calling also began to appear at either end of Mayvand Avenue. The two main streets of the bazaar were to a great extent spontaneously rebuilt over time in the 1960s-1970s, with houses of more than one floor, which often contained lodgings above the shops. Oriented roughly east-west, these were Šōr Bāzār south of Mayvand Avenue, and Čahār Čata (Four Roofs, a name suggesting the square with four arcades known before the First Anglo-Afghan War), north of it, both east of the traffic circle.

The clustering of shops by occupation more or less ceased, but examples could still be seen in the late 1970s. For instance, in Čahār Čata one could find dealers in vests and turbans (Velter et al., pp. 48-50), teapots (ibid., pp. 79-80), glassware, antique weapons, etc., and in the Šōr Bāzār mainly tailors, who often were Hindus (Hahn, 1964-65, I, p. 32). Most of the shops in the central parts of these two streets sold all sorts of merchandise of Western or Japanese origin, mixed in great disorder with products of native craftsmanship (Velter et al., pp. 40 ff.). Occupational groupings were better preserved on the secondary streets, especially on the periphery of the central nucleus of the bazaar.

Just to the northwest, the market quarter called Bāḡ-e ʿOmumi “Public Park” is clearly a later (late 19th century) extension to the original bazaar. It was organized around a crossroads (with northeast-southwest and northwest- southeast axes), leading to the river. There a well-defined secondary central nucleus of fabric merchants has been maintained, and beyond them groups of salt and soap sellers (Hahn, 1964-65, I, p. 34). Thus new activities also developed around the old commercial center, side by side with the very dense and busy old urban fabric. The roads here, however, were not large enough to meet the needs of the new commercial establishments that started in the 1940s, such as automobile repair shops, which located to the northeast, near the river, from the beginning of the Jalālābād road) and shops of merchants selling aluminum products (Hahn, 1964-65, I, p. 33) also northeast and near the river.

The Kabul bazaar, although its overall features were vividly described in the late 1970s (Velter et al.), was unfortunately not mapped in detail, shop by shop, as other Middle Eastern cities were in that period. It presented a disconcerting contrast between entirely disorganized sections and others where the traditional clustering of shops by occupation was still clearly perceptible. Largely lacking in structure, it nevertheless remained, within its ancient limits, by far the most important local commercial center up to the 1970s. Around 1960, the old city was estimated to contain between 3,000 and 4,000 shops and/or workshops, doing business not only with the city proper, but also with all the villages in the region, and supporting a population of 40,000-50,000 people. This is about the same number as in the 1830s (excluding the entourage of the court), when estimates began to become reliable (Hahn, 1964-65, I, p. 35).

Thus the economic weight of the bazaar, on the whole, hardly changed for a century and a half. In 1960 it still accounted for more than half the total trading establishments and workshops of the city, but during the following decade this proportion began to diminish steadily as a result of the development of new districts. The 1969 census counted only 49 percent in the old city, a little more than 8,000 out of 16,500 total, of which 42 percent were independent shops or workshops and 7 percent were collected in serais having multiple units (Grötzbach, 1979, pp. 40-41). In 1969, the old city had 107,000 inhabitants, a figure probably not much greater than in the 1920s. Its population did change, however, in social composition. All those of a higher social level left it by 1969 to occupy new neighborhoods in the north; they were replaced by new immigrants of rural origin, who were crammed into the large, abandoned residences that were subsequently divided up.

The density of the old city population varied, according to sector, from 500 to over 1,000 inhabitants per hectare (Barrat; cf. above, e.g., 40 per hectare in Šahr-e Naw). Workers who were unqualified or had no permanent work at the bazaar at this time made up about 30 percent of the population, forming a very definite lower social level in comparison with the traditional tradesmen and craftsmen (Grötzbach, 1979, p. 43). To its former function of being a commercial and professional center, the old city had added that of being a residential quarter for the poor.

From the late 1960s, the new neighborhoods acquired the major part of commercial activity, which took on entirely new forms, both in its spatial structures and in the nature of its merchandise. Trading establishments of a modern nature first invaded the broad avenues of the royal quarter, north of the river, and then the southern part of Šahr-e Naw. Their shop windows contrasted sharply with the bazaar booths, and they mainly sold high quality and imported commodities to a clientele of the well-to-do classes and the many foreign residents. Businesses concentrated in these quarters that responded to new needs and offered products not found in the bazaar, for example, ready-made furniture (in the bazaar, people could buy only furniture made to order by artisans). The first ladies’ dressmakers appeared, as well as Western-style hotels and restaurants.

Just north of the river, directly across from the old bazaar, a new commercial area developed, mixed with the administrative and office buildings and airline agencies there and strongly marked by Western influence. From the late 1960s on, this focal area commanded more than a sixth of the city’s commerce (Grötzbach, 1990, p. 202). Despite its modern aspect, the practice of clustering by occupation, even with respect to modern activities, was not totally absent. On both sides of the river, at the periphery of the old bazaar, there were rows of dentist’s offices and pharmacies of European style (Hahn, 1964-65, I, p. 36). To the north, in the new city, groups of carpet merchants and antique shops (catering to the foreigners and tourists, who were starting to appear) and boutiques for imported shoes (ibid., p. 37) began to appear from the 1950s on. But clustering of shops by occupation disappeared from the many commercial sub-centers which developed at various points in the northern quarters (in north Šahr-e Naw and in Šērpur) and then in the west, especially around the university and on the Qandahār road. (The latter area, however, did contain groups of automobile repair shops, as well as the inter-city bus departure points). Finally, as the city spread, numerous small food and neighborhood shops sprang up in the new areas.


Modern Kabul witnessed not only the growth of new kinds of commerce, but also the appearance of modern industry, of which it became a significant center. On the whole, Kabul became the most important center of diversified industry in Afghanistan, despite the constraints connected with the absence of sufficient energy sources and raw materials, especially wood, which could be brought only from the distant forests of the southeast. From the beginning, industry was vigorously fostered by the state.

The origin of modern industry in Kabul lies in the manufacture of military equipment (rifles, cannons, cartridges, gunpowder) introduced by Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan from the early years of his reign and organized with the aid of foreign experts (Gregorian, p. 143). Military production already amounted to 175 rifles per week in the 1880s, and 3,000 to 20,000 cartridges a day, according to need. Manufacture of other army goods quickly followed, with a tannery to supply leather for boots and harness, a textile mill for woolen uniforms, and also makers of musical instruments for brass bands. This development was continued under Amir Ḥabib-Allāh (r. 1901-19); in 1901-4, Kabul was estimated to have about 1,500 employees working for the government, and in 1919, about 5,000 (Gregorian, pp. 190-91). This form of state industry at least provided the greatest continuity and stability. Private enterprises first began to be formed in the 1930s, but they suffered from instability and experienced numerous failures. Until 1960, the only operative production processes carried on without interruption were run by state enterprises. From 1960 on, small, privately owned factories—mainly food-processing plants—began to multiply and enjoyed some success.

The industry of Kabul is of an urban, highly diversified kind, producing food (industrial milling, oil pressing, etc.), textiles, building materials, furniture and wooden objects, glassware, and other commodities, with supporting service businesses such as repair workshops for small metal products. The location of industrial works in the city was quite precise from the beginning. There were some to the west of the old city, where the river flowed between the flanking ridges, and traces of these remain, but the space there was too confined, and development was soon obstructed. However, there was no lack of space in the Pol-e Čarḵi quarter east of the royal quarter, near the barracks and along the roads running east out of the city. The main industrial works were built here in the 1950-80s, first along the Jalālābād (Tang-e Ḡāru) road (this is the most important and most diverse grouping), then the Lataband road (notably the big state cotton industry works). A third site emerged southwest of Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza as a site for wood and textile industries (producing ready-made garments). The total number of workers in modern industries has never been precisely counted. On the eve of the communist revolution of 1978, their number was estimated to be about 20,000, of whom perhaps about two-thirds or three-quarters were employed by the state.


Difficulties such as the scarcity of energy and natural resources have long hampered the city’s development plans. The great majority of Afghanistan’s high-level facilities were always concentrated in Kabul, and, as the capital city, it presented, especially in terms of education and sanitation, a vastly more favorable situation than that of the rest of the country. But the basic infrastructure by no means kept step with the city’s development (Hahn, 1964-65, I, pp. 61-68; Grötzbach, 1979, pp. 49-52; idem,1990, pp. 203-4).

Electricity was introduced in Kabul in 1893 (by means of a diesel generator) and, to begin with, was exclusively reserved for the amir’s court and some state services. It was long supplied only by hydroelectric installations. The first one was built in 1917 at Jabāl al-Sarāj, on the Sālang river north of the Kabul river basin, and remained the only one until just after World War II. At that time, a series of developments was carried out on the Kabul river below the city, at Sorōbay (1957) and Māhipar and Naḡlu (1966-67). Total power amounted to 180,000 kilowatts, but soon proved to be insufficient, especially due to transmission line losses in the city itself. It proved necessary to resort to two oil-powered generators of 45,000 kilowatts each, which went online in 1978 and 1984 respectively. These could not keep up with the growing rate of consumption, and there were frequent breakdowns and power reductions. In 1980, there were officially 70,000 consumers of electricity in the city, without counting the very numerous illegal connections. An estimated two-thirds of the homes in the city were connected then, but the proportion certainly diminished afterwards.

Things were much more critical with regard to the supply of drinking water, despite the fact that the city’s topographical situation was on the whole favorable in terms of water resources. It was close to mountainous regions where there was no lack of running water and situated in a basin with its underground water table well provided. Traditionally, the old city used the water of the Kabul river and its channels and also wells. In addition, some villages of the northern suburbs used underground water channels (kārēz), which were still in use until recently in Šērpur. The first modern general supply network, proceeding from the mountains west of the basin (Paḡmān), was started in 1923, and followed up in 1957 for the Kārta Seh area by a system fed by deep wells, which were very inadequate. In 1968, only 9 percent of the houses were connected with the public system, 58 percent took their water from wells, and the rest from the river or from the channels proceeding from it.

In the 1970s, two additional networks were added, financed by German funds. They were the Afšār project for the west, and the Lōgar project for the east of the city, both proceeding from deep wells reaching underground water, aimed at supplying drinking water for 400,000 people. It is unknown to what extent these objectives were met. In 1977, the number of inhabitants in Kabul having access to healthy water did not exceed 300,000 to 350,000 (Kabul Times, 25 July 1977). In 1987, a project was planned to build, with aid from the Soviet Union, a dam in the Lōgar valley, 12 km south of the city, but there was never the slightest sign of its being carried out. The sanitary conditions connected with this situation remained deplorable. Dysentery was frequent, and recourse to boiled or chlorinated water was essential.

A third major problem for the satisfactory functioning of a metropolis—one less serious than the matter of electricity and water but increasingly felt in daily life in the 1970s—was the question oftraffic. There were in 1977 only 30,000 registered motor vehicles, that is, one for every 25 to 30 persons. Of these, 15,000 were private cars (3,000 belonged to foreigners), 7,000 to 8,000 trucks, somewhat more than 4,000 taxis, and about 3,000 public buses (the only public transport, which was entirely inadequate). While these were relatively modest figures, traffic jams started to be frequent in the new quarters near the old city. The need for a rapid highway between the center and the newest northern quarters (Ḵayr-ḵāna) was being painfully felt. Light-rail projects were envisaged but never begun.

The situation was incompatible with the normal functioning of a city approaching a million inhabitants, and the need for a development plan was already evident in the 1960s. In 1966, the first master planfor urban development was established with Soviet aid and inspiration. This was modified in 1971 and again in 1979. This final version, which projected a million and a half inhabitants by the mid-1990s, officially regulated the city’s evolution until 2003 (Grötzbach, 1979, pp. 52-56; idem, 1990, pp. 204-5). The plan marked a radical change, a complete break with the entire previous evolution of the city and with the earlier concept of how urban life should be organized.

The plan set out from the principle that the way followed until then for developing new city quarters, that is, building a large number of family houses on relatively large plots, would lead to a dead-end (which may be accurate). The new project was to remodel the city’s appearance entirely. The old city would continue to be the main commercial center, and the old royal quarter to the north, with the southern part of Šahr-e Naw, would become a mixed area of administration and business. But both would have to be razed (with the exception of some historical buildings and monuments) and rebuilt as blocks with up to fourteen floors. As for the residential quarters, the aim was to condense them considerably so as to reach densities of 220 to 250 inhabitants per square hectare (compared with the existing 40-140 per square hectare; see above). This could be accomplished only by pulling down 70 percent of the existing homes. Of the replacement buildings, 10-15 percent would be 10-storey or higher, 65 -70 percent 5-6 storey, and only 20-25 percent 3-storey or less. These housing zones were to be divided into four districts, each having a complete sub-center (administrative, economic, cultural, even concert halls) and numerous smaller centers according to scale (Grötzbach, 1979, pp. 52-56; idem, 1990, pp. 204-5) Apart from the ideological and visionary character of this idea of uniformization and its obvious lack of any adaptability to the population’s cultural and family traditions, the plan contained not a single word about the immense financial resources needed, such as for expropriation indemnities. The project was completely surrealistic in the context of a very poor country almost lacking in any kind of credit structure, as Afghanistan still was at the time. It meant, purely and simply, a veritable social as well as urban revolution, leading to the introduction into Afghanistan of a collective type of city and lifestyle such as had been imposed on Central Asia by Soviet power. Devised when the republic was at its zenith and within its main control center, the plan was a prelude to the impending communist revolution (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Kabul, projected land use according to the city's development plan of 1971. 1. Trade, Service industry. 2. Administration, education. 3. Industry, manufacturing. 4. Residentiai areas. 5. Open spaces and parks. 6. City limits, mostly overbuilt in 1973. After Grötzbach, 1979, p. 55, map 4.Figure 8. Kabul, projected land use according to the city's development plan of 1971. 1. Trade, Service industry. 2. Administration, education. 3. Industry, manufacturing. 4. Residentiai areas. 5. Open spaces and parks. 6. City limits, mostly overbuilt in 1973. After Grötzbach, 1979, p. 55, map 4.View full image in a new tab


The views of the master plan have been radically challenged by the course of events in Afghanistan since the 1980s. For this period, data for gauging the evolution of the city is sadly lacking. No Western scholar has been able to work seriously on this matter, and precise observations, which were already very difficult under the communist régime, became impossible under the Taliban (Ṭālebān). Fights between factions, after the fall of the communist régime (marked by the Mujahidin entry into Kabul on 15 April 1992) provoked major destruction, particularly in the fiercely disputed central quarters (especially Mayvand Avenue); but it is impossible to estimate even roughly the proportion of the urban fabric that has been entirely or partially ravaged. The master plan described above remained unimplemented during the communist period. But construction continued on the blocks of collective residential buildings developed especially towards the northeast, on either side of the road to the airport. These were described by the Soviet term mikroraĭon, abbreviated as Mikroyān in Kabuli Persian (Grötzbach, 1990, p. 198). Similar blocks were built to the south between Kōh-e Šēr Darvāza and the river. The rate of building collective prefabricated housing rose to some 800 apartments a year (Kabul New Times, 25 August 1987). At the same time, however, an attempt had to be made to account for the financial requirements of this effort, which were estimated at about 200 billion Afghanis (compared to the 30 billion Afghanis for the value of the existing built-up property). For the twenty-five-year duration of the master plan, the greater part of Afghanistan’s budget was devoted to the mere urban transformation of the capital.

The communist government must have recognized the anomaly; from 1982 on, it tried to launch much less expensive projects, including traditional buildings of a much more rudimentary kind than the large, prefabricated collective blocks. For instance, the development Nawābād-e Pol-e Čarḵi east of the city was intended to accommodate 80,000 to 100,000 persons (Kabul New Times, 4 February 1982). The density anticipated was to reach 230 inhabitants per hectare, but at a much lower cost than that of the plan and according to a very different social model, which was to relegate the lower social classes to the city’s outskirts (Grötzbach, 1990, p. 205). Thus 13,300 plots of land were distributed from 1978 to 1984 (Kabul New Times, 9 January 1985). These projects were, in any case, quite incapable of accommodating the surplus of the new population. In the same time period, the influx of refugees led to a considerable illegal construction (Grötzbach, 1990, p. 205).

One indisputable conclusion, despite the absence of precise data, is that the growth in Kabul’s population greatly accelerated during the period of Soviet occupation (1979-89), due to the great influx of refugees leaving the insecure zones of the countryside. A census taken in 1986, the results of which were published in theKabul New Times of 8 February 1987 (Grötzbach, 1990, p. 199), provided the figure of 1,286,000 inhabitants. The estimates for the early 21st century are more than 2 million people. Both are plausible numbers, although unsupported by data. Within this population, it is impossible to describe what important transformations in its ethnic makeup may have occurred and how people were divided into different residential groups. It is at least probable that the part played by the Pashtuns in the area diminished. During the war of resistance against the Soviet occupation, Pashtuns emigrated massively to Pakistan, whose border was not far from their home settlements, while the natives of the northern Tajik country and the Hazāras of the center tended to seek refuge in the big city. It appears certain that the predominance of the Persian-speaking element in Kabul became more marked. At the same time, community groupings became more frequent within the city itself, especially west of the areas of temporary dwellings, and above all among the Hazāras. The conflicts between different factions after the evacuation of the Soviet troops took on a very marked inter-ethnic character in Kabul.

Economic life in the city was in great turmoil. The suppression of most foreign-made imported objects over a long period, the at least partial return to an “subsistence economy” in a context of general impoverishment, led to a near extinction of certain occupations in the bazaar, while others flourished. For example, from 1986 on, jewelers and goldsmiths, having lost their creditworthy clients, were replaced by sellers of oil lamps, whose trade prospered because of the increasingly frequent power cuts. Sellers of the Nuristāni-type (“chitrali”) caps, which had become a symbol of resistance, had a brisk trade. But all occupational activities relying on charcoal were difficult to carry out, due to its growing scarcity in the city. North of the river, in the transitional area leading to the modern commercial streets of Šahr-e Naw, there developed a vast illegal market at the site of the tinsmiths’ bazaar. Here there were all kinds of commodities pilfered by Soviet soldiers and officers, such as motorcycle tires, water pumps for jeeps, and cable sheathing. This so-called Bāzār-e Brejnev (Brezhnev’s market) also became a center for black-market gasoline when the latter became difficult to obtain.

Damage to the city included, in the early 1980s, the razing of a large part of the Šōr Bāzār, as well as an entire section of the musicians’ street and part of the blacksmiths’ quarter, in order to create an access lane 30 m wide for tanks (Delloye and Velter). This was in response to an attack carried out as early as 1979 against the police station of the Shiʿite district of Čandaval, Under the Taliban (1992-2001), life in the city was much affected by the prohibition of all cultural activities (music, films, painting, etc.), and these completely disappeared from view.

An even more serious problem was that, in the twenty-five years from 1980 on, Kabul’s ascendancy over the rest of the country was considerably reduced. The political capital lost a major part of its functions of dominance, which it had patiently acquired in the course of the preceding half-century, over other centers of decision-making. In the early 21st century, Herat and Mazār-e Šarif in particular, and Qandahār, form largely autonomous centers of economic activity. They, in fact, organize foreign relations and smuggling across the increasingly theoretical frontiers. The reconstruction of an effective central power and the control of its environs will be long and difficult to bring about, considering its currently isolated and marginalized condition. Given a vast territory and a truly hierarchical urban network, Kabul indeed appears like a capital still to be built.


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  • Charles Edward Yate, Northern Afghanistan, London, 1888.


Neglected by the last Mughal emperors, Kabul was given a new lease of life in 1775, when it succeeded Kandahar (Qandahār) as the capital of the independent Afghan empire built by Aḥmad Shah Ṣadōzay (1747-72), chief of the large Abdāli/Dorrāni tribal confederation. This suited the interests of Timur Shah (1772-93), Aḥmad Shah’s son, who sought to offset Kandahari forces by surrounding himself with urbanized non-Pashtuns (Fōfalzay, 1967, pp. 193-96). As the new capital, Kabul continued to develop throughout the last two decades of the 18th century under the reign of Timur Shah and especially his son Shah Zamān (1793-1800). The city then remained more or less unchanged for most of the 19th century under the first of the Moḥammadzay rulers. The population grew considerably and was estimated at 60,000 in the 1830s (Masson, II, p. 55) and 140,700 in 1876 (Gazetteer, p. 230).

At the time, Kabul had three distinct sectors, all enclosed within defensive walls on the right bank of the river Kabul. To the east, the citadel (bālā ḥeṣār) stood on a rocky spur of the Šēr Darwāza mountain. As well as its numerous royal buildings, barracks, mosques, an arsenal, stables etc., an entire town developed in the lower part (bālā ḥeṣār-e pāyin), while the upper part (bālā ḥeṣār-e bālā) was home to an infamous prison. In the mid-18th century, Qizilbash (Qezelbāš) military contingents from Iran settled to the west and formed the Čendāwol district, which was noticeable as a Shiʿite neighborhood in Sunnite surroundings. Between the two, the city itself, “a mile in length, and somewhat more than half a mile in breadth” (Burford, p. 4), lay between the foot of the Šēr Darwāza mountain and the river, with the dome of Timur Shah Ṣadōzay’s mausoleum dominating the skyline. On the left bank, which had only one residential district—Morād Ḵāni, named after Sardār Morād Khan, who built the Ṣadōzay capital—there were large royal gardens along the old Ḵiābān, the Avenue of Bābor, but which lacked the refinement of the Mughal era (Burnes; Fōfalzay; Hensman; Masson).

A mixed population of Tajiks, Pashtuns and Hindus, as well as some one hundred Armenians and a few Jews (Gazetteer, p. 230) lived and worked in the residential and business districts (maḥalla) on either side of Čār Čatta and Šur Bāzār, the two main streets. In this tangle of narrow winding streets (goḏar, kuča) lined by high walls, flat-roofed buildings made of mud and straw (kāhgel) were built around inner courtyards where domestic life was hidden from view. The opposite was true in the trading streets (bāzār) and wholesale markets (mandaʾi), where business was transacted in broad daylight around the stalls (dokān) and caravanserais (Masson, II, passim). There were many neighborhood mosques, and cemeteries spread on the outskirts of the city around holy sites held sacred by the population, such as Ziārat-e Ḥażrat-e Tamim wa Jabr-e Anṣār, Šāh-e Šahid, ʿĀšoqān-o ʿĀrefān (Einzmann; Ḵalil).

In order to alleviate this dense, urban fabric, Amir Šēr ʿAli (r. 1863-66 and 1868-79) decided to found a new town on the right bank, beyond the royal gardens. The plan was that, along with the army, a large share of eminent families would move to Šērpur, leaving more space for the remaining needy population (Ḵāfi, II, 147-48). The installation of a military camp at the foot of Bimāhru hill was underway when Afghanistan was once again caught in the rivalry between its two powerful neighbors, Tsarist Russia and British India, and the country was plunged into a second war with Great Britain. The Šērpur project was abandoned (Hensman, pp. 41-43).

When ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān (1880-1901; see AFGHANISTAN x. POLITICAL HISTORY) acceded to the throne, Kabul was a city in ruins without a single prestigious building still standing. On two occasions it had paid the price of the Anglo-Russian “Great Game” being played out in Central Asia (see ANGLO-AFGHAN WARS i and ii). The Mughal bazaar of Čār Čatta in 1842 and the Bālā Ḥeṣār and part of the city in 1879 were irreparably destroyed by the British. Moreover, with time, entire sections of the city walls had collapsed and most of the royal gardens had run wild.

The arrival of Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān proved to be a turning point in the Afghan capital’s history. The spatial layout changed with the selection of a new site for a new citadel/palace (arg); modes of production were reorganized, with the construction of a complex of industrial workshops; and unique architecture developed, combining Central Asian, British-Indian and European styles. The decision to build the new Arg on the left bank of the river to the north of the town placed the city’s future firmly on the left bank. The royal palace—called Kōti—was built inside a vast compound, surrounded by a mud wall and a moat, along with its harem (ḥaramsarāy), two durbar halls (salām-ḵāna-ye ʿāmm and salām-ḵāna-ye ḵāṣṣ), various buildings to house the Treasury, the princes’ offices and those of the administration, and numerous outbuildings and barracks, with a large park occupying the rest of the land (Gray, pp. 34-40; Martin, pp. 51-52). Also on the left bank, further upstream at Bāḡ-e ʿĀlamganj, the Workshops (māšin-ḵāna), the first of their kind, were to produce a vast range of manufactured goods. Equipped for the first time with steam-powered machines, an entire industry producing military equipment, textiles and domestic items was soon to become “the most remarkable spectacle of modern Kabul” (Curzon, col. c).

Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān, who had a taste for architecture, also endeavored to adorn the capital and its surroundings with civilian and religious buildings, starting with a collection of palaces and royal residences: Bāḡ-e Bālā, Bāḡ-e Čarmgar, Bostān Sarāy, Gerdān Sarāy, Golestān Sarāy, Kōti Londoni, Mehmān-ḵāna, Šahrārā, etc. would remain familiar names long after some of them had disappeared (Schinasi). Close to the Arg and inspired by the Central Asian style the Amir had seen in Samarqand, Naḡāra-ḵāna, also known as Gonbad-e Kōtwāli, was a monumental covered passage (Markowski, p. 38) that served as a city gate and led to Bāzār-e Arg, an avenue that ran to the river and the town. As for Masjed-e Jāmeʿ-e ʿIdgāh, Kabul’s largest mosque, built on the outskirts of the city, it borrowed from Mughal architecture (Fayż Moḥammad, pp. 993-94).

During the first two decades of the 20th century, Amir Ḥabib-Allāh (1901-18) took little interest in the city and its lower classes, and Kabul slowly developed on the left bank. The Arg was extensively reorganized. Three new palaces, Delkokā, Gol-ḵāna, and Stōr, were built and decorated, a clock tower and a photographic studio were constructed, and the park was transformed into a reception area where audiences were held when the weather allowed. All these developments show how much the Amir cared about his own comfort and his fascination with Western innovation and technology (Schinasi). To the west of the Arg, the princes and certain eminent figures moved to the village of Deh Afḡānān, which emerged as a residential neighborhood. Alongside the British-Indian style in vogue at the time, European architecture also appeared, such as Zayn al-ʿEmārat, the residence of Prince Naṣr-Allāh, the Amir’s older brother. Nonetheless, despite their sloping roofs and openings in the façades, family privacy remained protected behind high garden walls (Dupree, 1977). To the east of the Arg, Qawmi Bāḡ was a new kind of palace. It was a large salon that the Amir reserved specially for the qawm or ruling Moḥammadzay clan, to relieve families of the considerable burden of organizing receptions (Serāj al-aḵbār III/1, 1913, p. 7b). Even further east but on the right bank on the outskirts of town, the population was given a large public park: Čaman-e Ḥożuri, which also served as a place of amusement, a sports field, and a parade ground, where large gatherings were held to mark certain festivals, when the tents of the Amir and his court were erected in a specially reserved area (ibid., 1911, I/1, pp. 2-4, and I/20, 1912, pp. 1-3). Military maneuvers and reviews were held at Čaman-e Neẓāmi, a larger site located beyond the village of Bimāhru (ibid., V/9, 1915, p. 2), while the palace of Bāḡ-e Čarmgar was to host the new military academy (maktab-e ḥarbiya-ye serājiya; ibid., 1912, I/12, I/20; Rybitschka, pp. 50-52).

The serājiya reign does, however, boast some major works and innovations that not only satisfied the Amir’s taste for progress and modernity, but also served the urban community. These included a considerable increase in the city’s drinking water supply through the laying of several kilometers of pipes between Paḡmān and Kabul, and the maintenance of wider roads that ran between the different palaces, around the Arg, and at Deh Afḡānān. The road surfaces were rendered suitable for vehicles, a necessity as the first automobile appeared in the city, a privilege reserved for the Amir and a few senior court members. In addition, more popular forms of transport arrived, such as bicycles and two-wheeled, horse-drawn carts (gādi) that became widely used, and the first telephone lines were installed. There was renewed activity in the Workshops, which housed the office and typographic equipment of Serāj-al-aḵbār (1911-18), the historic illustrated newspaper that published the first photographs of Kabul taken by Afghan photographers. The Workshops grew, with the creation of a wool weaving factory (pašminabāfi) (ibid., 1914, III/10, III/18, IV/5) and most importantly, the facilities were modernized when electricity was installed in 1918. Although only the palaces and Workshops were lit, the introduction of this new driving force, produced by the Kohestān hydroelectric plant at Jabal-al-Serāj, was undoubtedly the highlight of Amir Ḥabib-Allāh’s reign (Jewett Bell, passim). Kabul was changing, but with no master plan.

With King Amān-Allāh (1919-29), Kabul, and Afghanistan, entered the 20th century. With the recognition of Afghan independence by European powers, Kabul became an international capital for the first time, and government organizations were so extensively reformed that it became a Western-style administrative city. But Kabul was not prepared for such upheaval. The lack of adequate housing for foreigners and new civil servants was resolved by the radical change in royal habits. Amān-Allāh chose to surrender his exclusive use of royal palaces and residences, which were allocated to foreign diplomatic missions and to senior ministries (Amān-e Afḡān 1/3, 1919, p. 3; Schinasi). The Arg opened its doors. With the exception of the palaces of Gol-ḵāna, where Amān-Allāh moved with his family, Delgošā, which was used for receptions, and Kōti, renamed Kōti Bāḡča and turned into a museum (Amān-e Afḡān 5/19, 1924, pp. 4b-5), the various other buildings were used as offices for ministries and for the administration.

“The new Afghanistan” that the King strived to build was defined in over one hundred locally published decrees (neẓām-nāma). One of them outlined the status and mission of the new municipalities (baladiya) and of Kabul in particular, which he dreamed of turning into a modern, organized capital (Neẓām-nāma-ye baladiya, 1924). Ranging from some rules on urban planning and behavior on public highways to the safety of passersby, the circulation of pack animals and gādis in the bazaars, the list of current market prices practiced by shopkeepers, road maintenance etc., the fields in which the municipality could intervene were stipulated for the first time, but as they clashed with certain deep-rooted habits, they had little effect. The historic town remained unchanged.

The river marked an increasingly distinct divide between the historic town, which remained the business center, and the northern districts, where a new center emerged some distance from Naqāra-ḵāna, around the Bāzār-e Šāhi and the first modern hotel, Kāfe Wali, and where the village of Deh Afḡānān developed more and more into a residential neighborhood. Activities and construction also began on the embankments (lab-e daryā). On the right bank, the old Čār Bāḡ of Bābor was transformed into a public park (bāḡ-e ʿomumi). On the left bank, from the small ʿOlyā Rotba mosque to the entirely reconstructed large mosque of Šāh-e Du Šamšira, the Andarābi district became fashionable (Schinasi).

During the amāniya decade, the modernization efforts supervised by foreign technicians affected many sectors of public life. Communications, postal, telephone and telegraph services and a radio station were established (Markowski, passim), and airplanes flew over Kabul for the first time, landing at the Šērpur airport built between Bimāhru hill and the royal palace (Amān-e Afḡān 9/34, 1928, p. 2). Newly created local trading companies (šerkat) began intense import-export activities, and the first ever foreign company was authorized: the German “Deutsch-Afghanische Companie” (sic) opened its doors on the Andarābi embankment. A Western-style education system also began to take shape, with the opening of general and specialized teaching establishments: for example, two new buildings housed the Amāniya in 1923 and Amāni in 1924, schools that taught respectively in French and German; the Šahrārā palace became home to the Ḥabibiya school; and the Kōti Londoni to the School of Fine Arts (maktab-e ṣanāyeʿ-e nafisa). The greatest novelty of all were two girls’ schools created by Queen Ṯorayā and her mother. One of them, the ʿEṣmat school at Qalaʿ-ye Bāqer Khan on the right bank, was to close down quite quickly, while the other, Maktab-e Masturāt in Deh Afgānān, would constantly expand in the Golestān Sarāy palace made available by the queen mother (Schinasi, 1995, pp. 449-53).

As part of his dream of modernization, Amān-Allāh also launched a monumental project to build a new capital named after him, Dār al-Amān, in the Čārdeh plain southwest of the city. The project was designed by German architects and the French architect and archeologist André Godard, with German engineers in charge of construction (Gerber). In Dār al-Amān, as in the northern districts, regulations recommended abandoning mud constructions and encouraged European architecture with detached houses visible from the street (Neẓām-nāma-ye abniya-ye šahr-e Dār al-Amān). This dream ended with the fall of the king in 1928. Tāj Bēg, the royal palace, the governmental palace, the future city hall and around ten villas remained unfinished. Various attempts to revive them in 1930, 1960, and 1974 all came to nothing (Dar-ul-AmanBrief History). The amāniya decade was one of modernization at all costs, but, still with no master plan, Kabul remained a disorganized city.

The task of truly adapting Kabul to the new requirements of the emerging modernized State fell to Moḥammad Nāder Shah (1929-33; Kābol 30). However, at the time the new king was laying down his course of action (ḵaṭṭ-e maši; Anis, 15 October 1930), the capital had been ravaged by a brief period of Tajik rule that left Afghanistan destabilized after the fall of Amān-Allāh and the nine-month rule of Amir Ḥabib-Allāh Kalakāni, known as Bačča Saqqā, who had seized power in 1929. Nāder Shah set up a National Council for Assisting Reconstruction (majles-e emdādiya-ye melli; Eṣlāḥ 11 November 1929). Repair work was completed within a few months, and Kabul recovered its activity and vitality. The newly reorganized municipality set to improving the city’s finances and published a series of measures that concerned the life of the city and its residents (Anis, 1 May 1930). The Prime Minister (ṣadr-e aʿẓam), Moḥammad Ḥāšem, who was appointed by his brother the king, moved into the former palace of Zayn al-ʿEmārat (ṣedārat), and transferred the entire administration and the ministries from the Arg, where Amān-Allāh had grouped them, into their own buildings in the city (Schinasi). In addition, a large Ministry of Public Works, founded in 1933, was built at Čaman-e Ḥożuri; it took charge of all public works for the various ministries, as well as road maintenance and bridge repairs, monument construction (the holy site of Ḥażrat Tamim; the memorial to General ʿAbd-al-Wakil, and factory modernization (Sāl-nāma, 1933-34, pp. 163-64).

An intensive construction program began. The Ministry of Public Works began to build the Bāzār-e Čaman-e Ḥożuri, a women’s hospital at Čendāwol and a new military academy in the old Bālā Ḥeṣār, despite which the historic town remained the center of the traditional economy, its physiognomy unchanged with the same tangle of houses piled upon covered passages. On the other hand, new urban planning rules and plans for urban amenities brought more lively development to the left bank. A huge number of buildings sprouted up, including the new printing house (maṭbaʿa-ye ʿomumi) in the Arg gardens, a new customs house (gomrok) between Qalʿa-ye Maḥmud Khan and Morād Ḵāni, the Kabul Literary Society opposite Café Wali, renamed the Kabul Hotel, as well as ḥammāms, post offices, etc. The pace of urbanization picked up in Deh Afḡānān, with more housing estates, villas, and private gardens. Between the old and the new town, various activities developed along the newly built embankments. As well as small shops, a plot of land at Bāḡ-e ʿOmumi was allocated for the School of Fine Arts, a midwifery school (kurs-e qābelagi) was created at the new Andarābi women’s hospital, and the headquarters of the first semi-public joint stock company (šerkat-e ashāmi), the first product of a nascent economic policy (Kābol 30, passim), had a desirable location on the left embankment.

Nāder Shah drew upon the skills of numerous foreigners: Turkish doctors for the new medical faculty opened in Dār al-Amān, renamed Dār al-fonun, and for the sanatorium named after Dr. Refqi and built on the ʿAliābād site; French and German teachers for the Amāniya and Amāni schools, renamed Esteqlāl and Nejāt respectively (Eṣlāḥ, 24 September 1933); and German, Indian, Swedish, and other engineers and technicians to set up basic services. Afghanistan and Kabul opened up to tourism (Sāl-nāma, 1933-34, pp. 257-59).

During Nāder Shah’s four-year reign, the contrast became even more pronounced between the historic town, now known as the old town (šahr-e kohna), and the modern town, whose present and future lay mainly on the left bank. With no more than a roughly outlined framework, Kabul was transformed through various public programs and by the private real estate market. This transformation was to continue at an even faster pace during the reign of Moḥammad Ẓāher Shah (1933-73).


  • General works of reference. Z. Breshna, Das historische Zentrum von Kabul, Afghanistan, Karlsruhe, 2007.
  • E. Caspani, “Kabul capitale dell’Afghanistan,” Le Vie del Mondo 13/6, 1951, pp. 609-24.
  • N. H. Dupree, “Early Twentieth Century Afghan Adaptations of European Architecture,” in Art and Archeology Research Papers, 1977, pp. 15-21.
  • Idem, Kabul City, The Afghanistan Council, Special Paper, New York, 1975.
  • H. Hahn, Die Stadt Kabul (Afghanistan) und ihr Umland, 2 vols., Bonn, 1964-65.
  • C. Rathjens, “Kabul, die Hauptstadt Afghanistans,” Leben und Umwelt, 1957, pp. 73-82.
  • M. Schinasi, Kaboul 1773-1948. Naissance et croissance d’une capitale royale, Naples, 2008 (with a more detailed bibliography as well as maps and photographs).
  • N. H. Wolfe, An Historical Guide to Kabul, in collaboration with A. A. Kohzad, Kabul, 1965.
  • The Mughal period. Abu’l-Fażl ʿAllāmi, The Akbar-nāma, tr. H. Beveridge, 3 vols., Calcutta, 1897-1913.
  • Z. M. Babur, Le Livre de Bābor. Bābor-Nama. Mémoires du premier Grand Mogol des Indes (1494-1529), introd. and tr. from Čaḡatay Turkish by J-L. Bacqué-Grammont, Paris, 1985.
  • ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid Lāhōri, Bādšāh-nāma, ed. K. Aḥmad and ʿAbd-al-Raḥim, 2 vols., Calcutta, 1867-72.
  • Tozuk-e jahāngiri, tr. A. Rodgers and H. Beveridge, 2 vols., London, 1909-14.
  • M. T. Shephard-Parpagliolo, Kābul: The Bāgh-i Bābur. A Project and a Research into the Possibilities of a Complete Reconstruction, Rome, 1972.
  • The Ṣadōzay and Moḥammadzay periods until November 1933.
  • Amān-e Afḡān (weekly), Kabul, 1920-29.
  • Anis (bimonthly), Kabul, 1927.
  • R. Burford, Description of a View of the City of Cabul The Capital of Afghanistan, with the surrounding country, London, 1842.
  • A. Burnes, “On the Persian Faction in Cabool,” in A. Burnes, R. Leech, P. B. Lord, and J. Wood, Reports and Papers, Political, Geographical, and Commercial, Calcutta, 1939, pp. 7-13.
  • G. N. Curzon, “Across the Indian Frontier. X. The Capital of Afghanistan,” The Times, 8 January 1895.
  • Dar-ul-Aman—Brief History, Kabul, 1974.
  • H. Einzmann, Religiöses Volksbrauchtum in Afghanistan. Islamische Heiligenverehrung und Wallfahrtswesen im Raum Kabul. Wiesbaden, 1977.
  • Eṣlāḥ (weekly), Kabul, 1929.
  • Fayż Moḥammad, Serāj al-tawāriḵ, 2 vols., Kabul, 1913-15.
  • ʿA. W. Fōfalzay, Timur Šāh Dorrāni, 2 vols., 2nd ed., Kabul, 1967.
  • Gazetteer of Afghanistan, Part IV, Kabul, 4th ed., Calcutta, 1910.
  • A. Gerber, Afghanischen Mosaiken. Erlebnisse im verschlossenen Land, Braunschweig, 1942.
  • J. A. Gray, At the Court of the Amir, London 1895.
  • H. Howard, The Afghan War of 1879-1880, London, 1882.
  • M. Jewett Bell, ed., An American Engineer in Afghanistan from the Letters and Notes of A. C. Jewett, Minneapolis, 1948.
  • Kābol 30 [Special issue], Kabul, 1933.
  • M. E. Ḵalil, Mazārāt-e šahr-e Kābol, Kabul, 1960.
  • Y. ʿA. Ḵāfi, Pādšāhān-e motaʾaḵḵer-e Afḡānestān, 2 vols., Kabul, 1955-57.
  • B. Markowski, Die materielle Kultur des Kabulgebietes, Leipzig, 1932.
  • F. Martin, Under the Absolute Amir, London; New York, 1907.
  • Ch. Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, the Panjab, and Kalât, During a Residence in those Countries, 4 vols., London, 1844.
  • Neẓām-nāma-ye abniya-ye šahr-e Dār al-Amān, Kabul, 1923.
  • Neẓām-nāma-ye baladiya, Kabul, 1924.
  • E. Rybitschka, Im gottgegebenen Afghanistan. Als Gäste des Emirs, Leipzig, 1927.
  • Sāl-nāma-ye Kābol, Kabul, 1932-33 and 1933-34.
  • M. Schinasi, “Femmes afghanes. Instruction et activités publiques pendant le règne amâniya (1919-1929),” Annali dell’Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli 55/4, 1995, pp. 446-62.
  • Serāj al-aḵbār (bimonthly), Kabul, 1911-18.


Under Moḥammad Ẓāher Shah and Davud Khan

As described by Xavier de Planhol, urban planning in Kabul during Moḥammad Ẓāher Shah’s reign (1933-73) had been driven by an overarching assumption of steady but moderate growth, given the city’s function as the capital of the country as well its focal center for higher education (see ii, above). The first master plan marked an important attempt to reorganize the spatial structure of the city. A first revision was authorized in 1971 in order to do justice to Kabul’s unanticipated rapid growth. The revised plan accommodated an urban population of over 1.4 million expected by 1995. Its provisions included increasing residential density through large-scale construction of housing units. As de Planhol points out, this vision of urban life in Kabul was at odds with local preferences for secluded private spaces allowing for a separation between the public arena and the private personal and family sphere and can be considered a catalyst for rising political tensions within the capital city. Implied public criticism found its documented expression in no less than 6,000 applications to the municipality for individual property in 1975 alone. Besides, most of the newly constructed apartment blocks remained unaffordable for the lower strata, in particular for migrants from surrounding rural provinces (Grötzbach, 1979, pp. 55-56).

Providing additional momentum to rising intra-city tensions, Afghans living outside Kabul who had remained hostile towards the promises of capital city life (cf. Hatch; Dupree, 2002, p. 982) increasingly managed to gain a foothold in the political structure of the capital itself. The prevailing urban-rural pattern of economic exclusion and ideological rejection nurtured its own Kabul-based opposition by creating a group of educated minority leaders coming from a wide political and religious spectrum, “ambitious men whose access to power was blocked. Through their participation in the state educational system and the time they all spent in the capital, they developed aspirations not only for themselves but for their nation” (Rubin, 1992, p. 94). Agency for structural change was thus nurtured not only by rural resistance against an alleged urban project of modernity, but also by concrete actions taken within the city. This created a pattern of political conflict that strengthened the opposition against the central government both nationally, that is, across urban-rural fault-lines, and in its own ‘backyard’ (the capital itself) and provided an explosive mixture of secular discontent and religious mobilization that culminated in the ousting of Moḥammad Ẓāher Shah through a military coup in mid-1973 and the subsequent proclamation of an Afghan Republic by Dawud Khan.

Having taken the first tentative steps towards accomplishing a politically and administratively challenging land reform in 1976, by 1977 the Davud government already found itself in an awkward quandary. On the one hand, there was strong and vociferous pressure from the urban technocratic and bureaucratic elite prodding the government to continue with the project of socioeconomic modernization. On the other hand, traditionalists and religious authorities with mostly rural constituencies had gained leverage. They now enjoyed greater clout thanks to a somewhat odd alliance with the popular, urban-based communist and religious factions. Led by aspiring young politicians from both affluent urban and indigent rural backgrounds, the communist faction also attracted army officers and high-ranking officials from the civilian administration (Westad, 2005, pp. 299-300). A year later, in 1978, Davud was overthrown by a movement led by the communist Khalq-Parcham party (see communism iv. in afghanistan). Given the absence of a significant Afghan industrial working class, the party’s reform agenda was focused on the spatial inequality between the majority of rural dwellers and rural and urban elites as well as on the perceived need for a more radical land reform.

Although domestic structures and agency thus played crucial roles in the demise of the king’s rule as well as that of the first republic, foreign policy and external factors also contributed a significant part. Both Moḥammad Ẓāher Shah and Davud Khan had been concerned about the country’s precarious strategic location between its two regional neighbors, Iran and Pakistan. Intensified cooperation with the Soviet Union, one of the principal players in the global Cold War scenario and even more so in the West Asian regional context, not only promised economic development but also a certain degree of political protection. As a result, hundreds of students, often military cadets, were sent to the USSR and, upon their return, nurtured the Khalq-Parcham movement, based in Kabul, and formed a critical intellectual incubator for ideas and policies that would eventually guide Afghanistan’s political leadership throughout the late 1970s.

Under the Communist Regime and Soviet Occupation

As soon as they had taken over the governmental offices, the communists approached the second land reform in a more radical fashion. Rural change was to be implemented through young members of the communist student body and the party cadre traveling to remote provinces and overseeing the process of demarcation and redistribution. However, this strategy faced fierce resistance, not only from rural landlords, but also from its designated beneficiaries, who could not place their trust on the central government’s capability to intervene on their behalf in cases of local retaliation. They conceived of the policy as a dangerous political gamble in which they could well become the ultimate losers, putting their already minimal livelihood at peril.

As explained above, of the two counter-movements that had evolved during the 1970s, the communist factions were initially the more successful in seizing the political momentum. But when public discontent rose in response to their radical reform agenda, the religious movement regained its strength. The first Islamist uprisings soon followed. They reached Kabul in August 1979. In late December, the USSR launched its invasion in support of the fledgling communist government in Kabul. Yet instability increased further and culminated in February 1980 in the ‘Night of Allāh o Akbar,’ a “largely spontaneous rejection of the regime and its Soviet sponsors” (Rubin, 2002, pp. 135, 186) involving students, shopkeepers, and workers.

The ensuing resistance movement of the Mujahidin (mojāhedin), although enjoying some city-based support particularly in the south and western parts of the country, can best be seen as a rural insurgency using appropriate traditional and religious discourse to depict the occupying forces as “infidel foreign invaders” operating out of Kabul (Westad, 2005, p. 350; cf. Schetter, p. 2006). As a result, the Mujahidin began to enjoy mounting support, fueled partly by the occupiers’ brutal campaigns in the country’s vast rural areas. It must also be borne in mind that for the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, and particularly Kabul and the northern borders and the eastern provinces adjacent to Pakistan, were of great strategic significance in relation to the maintenance of its own internal security.

Within Kabul, the Soviet civilian and military presence led to large-scale construction of apartment blocks near the international airport and in Šahrārā quarter. Meanwhile, illegal settlements and squats sprang up as the rural population began to flee from the war-torn countryside (Grötzbach, 1986, pp. 82, 83; cf. ii, above). This rapid expansion exacerbated urban poverty in the capital and helped to tip the balance between public support and hostility towards the communist ideology, even within the capital itself. The Soviet-administered municipality tried hard to assuage the brewing discontent by reducing the vulnerability of urban residents through launching a system of subsidies for basic foodstuff and fuel in early 1980, but inflation levels in the capital prompted Afghan middlemen to opt for markets in the nearby provinces rather than in Kabul proper. Even though the authorities were aware of the problem, they were unable to seal off the city completely, as this would have had even more disastrous effects on the food supply.

In the ensuing military battles, first between the Mujahidin insurgency and the Soviet occupiers and later among the different Mujahidin factions themselves following the Russian withdrawal (formally concluded on 15 February 1989), the population and infrastructure of the capital suffered significant losses. An estimated 60,000 residents were killed during the fighting, and there was also substantial emigration of the population out of the capital. By the end of 1993, those government entities based in Kabul “probably exercised less control over the territory and population of Afghanistan than at almost any time in the preceding century” (Rubin, 1994, p. 187).

Given the Mujahidin’s reliance on various mobile guerrilla armies in fighting against the Soviet occupation, there were rapid and frequent changes in the military alliances during the infighting between 1992 and 1996 (Rubin, 2002, pp. 241, 265). Kabul ended up being divided into several factional zones, whose borders sometimes changed daily, akin to the situation in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war of the same decade. The buildings along Maywand Avenue (Jāda-ye Meywand) became a frontline for rival factions and were reduced to rubble. The southwestern districts of Deh Mazang and Dār al-Amān, in particular, were heavily bombarded or, like Kārte Se, even razed to the ground. Yet despite these campaigns against and within Kabul, no decisive victory was achieved by any of the warring parties. In the meantime, it remained one of the three constituting pillars of the Islamabad-Kabul-Peshawar triangle from which international aid organizations were operating (Magnaldi and Patera, 2004, p. 81), although the constantly shifting front lines made the delivery of humanitarian assistance extremely challenging (Atmar and Goodhand, 2001, p. 51; Marsden, 1998).

The eventual victory and capture of the city by the Taliban (Ṭālebān) owed more to the political instability emanating from the squabbles among warring Mujahidin factions than to any coherent military or superior strategy by the Taliban themselves (Arez and Dittmann, 2005, p. 115). Following a political accord in May 1996, the Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Massoud (Aḥmad Šāh Masʿud) had to accept the appointment of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (Golboddin Ḥekmatyār) as Prime Minister. As the commander of his own military forces, he had been playing a major role in the physical destruction of the capital (Rubin, 2002, pp. 272-73; Barakat et al., 1996). When the Taliban forces subsequently captured Hekmatyar’s military base south of Kabul in August, Massoud was pressured to send troops from his urban stronghold to support him. This further weakened his own defense lines in the city and tipped the balance in favor of the advancing Taliban forces. They captured Kabul on 26 September 1996, having met with little resistance from Massoud’s retreating units (Davis, 2001, pp. 56-68).

Under the Taliban Regime

Once they had occupied and subdued the capital, the Taliban quickly implemented a practice of ‘anti-planning’ towards it. Acting on a fundamentally rural-traditionalist ideology, the Taliban conceived of their attempt to reconfigure Kabul as a twofold agenda (Roy, 2001, p. 21). First, they regarded the city as a ‘Babylon’ in need of moral purification, a place that had to be ‘pushed back to the roots’ in order to provide for a better fit with the ethos of Pushtunwali-inspired Afghan tribalism. At the same time, the image of Kabul as a political ‘actor’ of anti-religious modernization justified a harsh punishment. The neglect of urban recovery or any significant development measures under the Taliban (cf. Arez and Dittmann, 2005, p. 148) should therefore be understood, not as a measure of their ignorance, but as their determined expression of revenge upon the city. Urban cosmopolitanism was quickly destroyed by a regime of prohibitions that aimed to minimize freedom of movement. Moḥtasebin (“guardians”)—an institution from Nāder Shah’s times—were reinstated. Religious watchdogs had been one of the three constituting pillars for the creation of Kabul municipality, together with the police commander and the kalāntar s (Grevemeyer, 1990, p. 236). Their original role of maintaining public order was now framed by the need for strict adherence to the hard-line interpretation of the Qurʾān propagated by the new urban governors.

As a result of the neglect of basic urban services, the dependence of Kabul’s fast-growing population on international aid agencies soon became a key urban feature (cf. Johnson and Leslie, 2002, p. 68). Before leaving the country in 1998, owing to the worsening security situation, the World Food Program was providing food for approximately a quarter of the city’s residents, and by December 1999, international staff were quoted as estimating that two-thirds of the population relied on direct humanitarian assistance (Goodson, 2001, p. 122).

Owing to their explicitly anti-urban ideology, the Taliban also used forced migration from rural areas and scorched-earth policies to ensure ethnic cleansing. During the summer of 1999, for example, the destruction of irrigation systems, farmland, and shelter forced tens of thousands to flee either north to the Panjsher valley or south to Kabul, where approximately 30,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons) arrived just before the onset of winter (Johnson and Leslie, 2004, pp. 70-71; cf. Rubin, 2003, p. 569).

Under Allied Occupation and the Karzai Government

The starkest experience of physical vulnerability in Kabul was still to come. Two years later, in 2001, the U.S.-led campaign to hunt down the terrorist cell responsible for the September 11 attacks was also presented to the public as a benevolent mission to ‘liberate’ Afghanistan from the rule of the Taliban. In an attempt to avoid civilian casualties, carpet-bombing was eschewed in favor of ‘precision attacks’ on strategic urban infrastructure (radar sites, airfields, command posts, etc.) that supported the Taliban resistance. However, since most of these sites were surrounded by poorly built settlements housing large numbers of people, the result of the bombing campaign was that most civilian deaths in the 2001 war occurred in high-density areas. The agenda of physical destruction under the Taliban was thus rounded off by their archenemies (Herold, 2004, pp. 316-17; Esser, 2007, pp. 14-15).

Following the ousting of the Taliban, the political centralization project of the occupation forces—led by the U.S. military and supplemented by NATO troops—was also reflected in the NGOs’ reinstated dichotomy between decision-making in their headquarters, which were either outside Afghanistan or concentrated in Kabul, and implementation “in the provinces,” the ‘site’ of the greatest need (cf. Stockton, 2002, p. 29). Immediately after the cessation of fighting, national politics within the urban realm revived around the issue of ethnic dominance over either newly created or reinstated national ministries. Former allies of Massoud, a Tajik ‘troika’ comprising the Foreign Minister, the Defense Minister, and the subsequent Minister of Education, formed an “alliance of convenience … to consolidate their power further in Kabul, … inevitably leading to tensions with [President] Karzai” (Wimmer and Schetter, 2003, p. 530). Political competition also manifested itself in frequent demands by the Tajik leaders for timely withdrawal of international security forces, a position directly opposite to the one advocated by the Pushtun President, who enjoyed practically no military support in the country and who has been frequently and pejoratively referred to as “the mayor of Kabul” (Hersh, 2004, p. 2), since his authority does not stretch much beyond the outskirts of the capital. At the same time, Kabul after the latest invasion is not the sole distribution center that it used to be in the past, especially during the Russian occupation. Several provincial cities are now rivaling its economic influence through their close locations to national borders. Moreover, the country’s economic disintegration and subsequent sub-regionalization of provinces in the north and west during the Taliban regime have led to the emergence of sub-regional trade blocs (Pugh et al., 2004; Rubin, 2000). Nonetheless, the city remains “the main channel through which reconstruction funds flow, of which, by definition, a substantial part spill over and stay in the city. No city or province in Afghanistan can offer a comparable package of incentives” (van der Tas, 2004, p. 68; cf. Lister and Wilder, 2005).

Not surprisingly, therefore, post-war Kabul underwent a process of dramatic urban concentration (Bertaud, 2005). Its population was growing at a breathtaking pace, as vast numbers of refugees chose to come to the capital rather than return to their home regions. In 2006, the population was estimated at 3.5 million (Mumtaz and Noschis, 2004, p. 20). From Ḵayr-kāna in the north to Nur Moḥammad Šāh Minā behind the old Bālā Ḥeṣār, the city is now one continuous urban area. The modern-looking central districts (nawāhi) have some infrastructure and more or less adequate housing, as well as a few luxury buildings and dense traffic with its inevitable pollution. Meanwhile, the city’s outskirts are home to the uncontrolled development of densely populated districts of makeshift housing on and below slopes and hillsides in the form of camps, shantytowns, or traditional but illegal constructions. Of the 16,830 city hectares of usable terrain encircled by steep mountains, only 1,000 ha had not already been used for construction as of mid-2004. Amid such growth, Kabul was groaning under the increased demand for the most basic services. Reliable electricity has only recently found its way to the semi-peripheral neighborhoods, and some still remain without power. Roads are in poor shape and notoriously blocked for the better half of the day. Yet at the center of household concerns were rising rents and cost of living, rampant unemployment, and lack of sanitary services (Beall and Esser, 2005). Sewerage systems remain overburdened and present a major venue for spread of disease, particularly for more vulnerable residents such as children, widows, and the elderly.

Lucrative deals concerning urban land were common. Private capital, both from external accounts and generated through legal and illegal economic activity within the country, provided the capital for the physical reconstruction of Kabul (Magnaldi and Patera, 2004). Encouraged by the readiness of international development agencies to pay rents on a par with London and New York, officials extricated both private and public land by capitalizing on the actual power bestowed on them by their official positions (Morgan et al., 2005, p. 22). A hundredfold leverage on initial ‘investments’ in pseudo-formal documentation from the municipality was the norm, and occasional investigations into cases of corruption-backed land appropriation have regularly been outpaced by the speed of construction on redistributed allotments. Without doubt, the economic boom in Kabul has also been fueled by money from drug trafficking (Rubin et al., 2004, p. 13). The reinvestment of income from production and trade in narcotics has now become established almost as official policy, with one provincial governor talking openly about an “informal amnesty” for drug lords willing to end their involvement in poppy cultivation and ‘leave their money at home’ in order to help kick-start construction companies and small industrial plants (Cooley, 2006; cf. World Bank, 2006, p. 23).

Alternative structures of rent-seeking and distribution remain equally linked to local “potentates, tribal leaders and notables [who] are bringing together the families who are dependent on them into local user associations … . and creating relations of dependence and partnership with intermediaries in NGOs in the capital” (Wimmer and Schetter, 2003, p. 532). This linking of the urban with the rural creates a new form of almost autonomous client non-states, “strengthened by the financial resources of the international donor community, and obstructing the stabilization of the state authority and legitimacy” (ibid.). Seen against this background, it is hardly surprising that rural-based politicians, many of them former commanders, have continued harnessing the frustration of rural folk over the slow pace of rural rehabilitation as a way of “political profiling” against the central government (Paasch, 2005), most visible in the persistently volatile east and south of the country but also increasingly prevalent in the north and west.


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The modern city of Kabul has expanded to such an extent in the last three decades that it now spills out from the Kabul valley. This article focuses on the major monuments in and around the Old City of Kabul and the most significant Dorrāni dynastic monuments and mausolea.


The Bālā Ḥeṣār fortress is the heart of the ancient city of Kabul (for ground plan see Figure 1 and Ball, 1982, II, plan 35-1; Sturt, 1839; Woodburn, pp. 8-9, 33, figs. 5 and 27). It is located on a ridge on the northeastern slopes of the Šēr Darvāza mountain. Discoveries of Achaemenid and Indo-Greek coins suggest a settlement existed here from the 6th century BCE (Ball, 1982, I, no. 483; idem, 2008, pp. 218-19; Fussman, II/1, p. 83; Hulin, pp. 174-76). Trenches cut in 2007 for planned new military buildings (since halted) produced samples of ‘late Kushan’ ceramics as well as foundations of medieval and Mughal buildings (DAFA, 2008; Thomas and Gascoigne, pp. 2-5, figs. 2, 4).

Figure l. Ground plan of Bālā Heṣār, Kabul. Adapted from W. Ball, Archeological Gazetteer of Afghanistan II, Paris, 1982, 35-1. Courtesy of the author. © 1982, all rights reserved.Figure l. Ground plan of Bālā Heṣār, Kabul. Adapted from W. Ball, Archeological Gazetteer of Afghanistan II, Paris, 1982, 35-1. Courtesy of the author. © 1982, all rights reserved.View full image in a new tab

The Bālā Ḥesār consists of two sections, the Bālā Ḥesār-e Pāʾin “Lower Bālā Ḥesār” and Bālā Ḥesār-e Bālā “Upper Bālā Ḥesār” (see PLATE I). The lower Bālā Ḥesār covers a low, terraced mound on the north, west, and east faces of the citadel and encompasses approximately 42 hectares (cf. Hough, p. 285). The high, thick stone and packed mud walls that are still visible date mainly from the mid-18th to late 19th centuries (Atkinson, 1842b, pp. 277-79; Bucherer, RE 60; Masson, 1842, II, p. 250; Woodburn, pp. 10-13, figs. 6, 7, 9, 12). The slope of the hill below the walls has been enhanced to form a glacis. On the south side are the remnants of an early 19th-century faussebraye (a second, lower rampart; Hough, p. 287; Masson, 1842, II, p. 250; Woodburn, pp. 7, 15). The outer defenses were once surrounded by a wet ditch (now dry), while the south side of the citadel was protected by the Ḥašmat Khan marsh (Bucherer, RE 56; Burke, no. 173/Photo 430/3[5].; Sturt, 1839).

PLATE I. The Bālā Ḥeṣār, Kabul, southeast walls, showing the walls and bastions of the Bālā Ḥeṣār-e Pāʾin and Bālā Ḥeṣār-e Bālā and its ruined gate (Darvāza-ye Kāši). © J. L. Lee, 1978, all rights reserved.PLATE I. The Bālā Ḥeṣār, Kabul, southeast walls, showing the walls and bastions of the Bālā Ḥeṣār-e Pāʾin and Bālā Ḥeṣār-e Bālā and its ruined gate (Darvāza-ye Kāši). © J. L. Lee, 1978, all rights reserved.View full image in a new tab

Both outer and inner walls are punctuated by D-shaped bastions (Hough, facing page 67; Masson, 1842, II, p. 257; idem, Sketches, no. 35; Sturt, 1839). The interior of the walls included vaulted casements with angled fire loops. The bastions and walls are surmounted by plastered mud and brick parapets with merlons and angled, hooded fire points (Atkinson, 1842a, pl. 20; Burke, no, 179/Photo 430/3[22]; Masson, 1842, II, p. 250; Woodburn, pp. 11-12 and figs. 9, 11). The Mughals substantially strengthened the outer line of walls and extended the area of the lower fort northwards. Jahāngīr constructed new palaces, audience halls, and a garden ( čahārbāḡ ). Aurangzeb later added a mosque (Atkinson, 1842a, pl. 20; Tūzuk-i-Jahāngīrī, I, p. 118; Burnes, I, p. 156; Woodburn, pp. 20-21, see fig. 28 for reconstruction of the Mughal complex).

From 1773 onward, the Dorrānis replaced a number of the Mughal buildings and built new residences in the lower Bālā Ḥesār (Atkinson, 1842b, pp. 277-79, 323; Masson, 1842, I, pp. 256-57) and on the eastern and southern walls (Bucherer, RE 58, 62; Burke, no. 179/Photo 430/3[22]). In the 1830s some 1,000 shops were located in the eastern and western quarter of the Bālā Ḥeṣār-e Pāʾīn. There were also barracks, stables, a parade ground, and administrative buildings (Atkinson, 1842a, plate 20; Bucherer, RE 71; Hough, p. 285; Masson, 1842, II, p. 255; Schinasi, p. 43). An Armenian quarter (maḥāla) and church was located inside the Šāh Šahid (eastern) gate (Allen, pp. 311-12; Burnes, I, p. 150; Lee, 2002, pp. 158-59; Masson, 1842, II, p. 255). In late 1879, General Roberts ordered the leveling of the bazaars, the neglected Mughal and Dorrāni structures, and the Armenian church (Bucherer, RE 54; Gray, p. 209; Lee, 2002, pp. 160-61; Moncrieff, p. 89; Schinasi, p. 43; Woodburn, pp 32-33, fig. 45).

Only fragments of Mughal and 18th-19th century structures survive. They include: elements of the Darvāza-e Kāši and Darvāza-e Šāh Šahid barbicans (Bucherer, RE 59-60, 67; Burke, no. 179/Photo 430/3[22]; Woodburn, fig. 16), sections of the parapet, and fragmentary tile work (Woodburn, pp. 11-12, 16 and figs. 10-12, 17-19). Notable 19th- century structures such as Šāh Šojāʿ’s Audience Hall (Atkinson, 1842a, plate 22; Bucherer, RE 66; Burke, no. 285/Photo 43/3[29]; MacGregor, p. 107; Rattray, pl. 3; Schinasi, p. 43) and the Residency where Maj. Cavagnari and his escort of Guides were massacred in 1879 (Bucherer, RE 63-65; Woodburn, pp. 27, 30, see fig. 41 for reconstruction) have not survived.

The Bālā Ḥesār-e Bālā, or upper fortress, lies on an elevated knoll in the southeast corner of the citadel. It is enclosed by its own wall with three-quarter circle bastions. The ruined main gate, the Darvāza-e Kāši is located in the angle of the south and east walls (Bucherer, RE 55; Burke, nos. 214-15, 218/Photo 430/3[7-8, 4]; Masson, 1842, I, p. 254; Sturt, 1839). Timur Šāh Dorrāni and his successors turned the upper Bālā Ḥesār into a state prison (Atkinson, 1842b, p. 278; Forster, II, p. 83; Masson, 1842, II, p. 253). One of the two wells, near the Darvāza-e Kāši, became the notorious Siyā Čāh dungeon (Burnes, I, p. 156; Lee, 1996, p. 555; Martin, pp. 149-50; Masson, 1842, II, p. 254). The fort was finally abandoned as a fortified royal residence in the 1890s (Schinasi, p. 72).

Above the main fortress on a knoll of the Šēr Darvāza are the remains of a brick and mud plaster tower known as the Borj-e Laḡlaḡu, Borj-e Hulāgu, or Bālā Borj (Burke, no. 212/Photo 430/3[85]; Masson, 1842, II, pp. 250-51; Woodburn, p. 13), which overlays a stupa, part of the Ḵʷāja Ṣafā complex (Fussman, II/1, pp. 83-84). In the early 19th century, the keep was linked to the Bālā Ḥesār by a line of parallel mud walls (Bucherer, RE 56; Burke, no. 229/Photo 430/3[9]; Sturt, 1839). The tower’s function was to strengthen defenses on the southwest from artillery and musket fire laid down from the Šēr Darvāza heights (Masson, 1842, II, pp. 250-51).

The walls of the old city run for some 5 km to the west of the fortress from the Borj-e Hulāgu (AKTC, no. 14, 2008, p. 2). One line runs up the ridgeline of the Šēr Darvāza to the Taḵt-e Šāh peak. A second line descends into the Deh Mazang gorge, where it crosses the Kabul river, and ascends the Kuh-e Asmāī and down its north face, terminating west of Deh Afḡānān (AKTC, no. 14, 2008, p. 2; Caspari, pp. 33-36; Dupree, pp. 99-100). The walls were once punctuated by six gateways, none of which have survived. Stone and mud plaster fortifications along their length give a Hephthalite (6th cent. CE) date in some sections (Ball, 1982, I, no. 483; idem, 2008, p. 218). The walls must be considered multi-period, since they have been repaired and rebuilt on many occasions.


Kabul’s main Buddhist complexes are located in southeastern Kabul in an arc along the eastern face of the Šēr Darvāza mountain and the Taḵt-e Šāh (for site distribution, see Ball, 1982, II, Map 110; Fussman, II/1, p. 80, idem, II/2, pl. 3). The “Ḥašmāt Ḵān” complex (Ball, 1982, I, no. 418), lies to the south of the marsh of the same name and consists of a series of monastic complexes (ca. 1st-5th cents. CE) mostly overbuilt by modern shrines, graves, and houses. The Panja-ye Šāh-e Mardān group is located on and around the ridge to the west of the shrine of the same name and stretches up the Taḵt-e Šāh as far as Tepe Naranj (Ball, 1982, I, no. 1905; Fussman, II/1, pp. 85-93, idem, II/2, pls. 11, 82; Ḵalil, pp. 39-40). Masson’s excavations uncovered arched recesses, clay statues, wall paintings, and manuscript fragments (Masson, 1842, II, pp. 235-36; idem, III, pp. 93-96; idem, Sketches, no. 4). Recent excavations, from 2004, have uncovered a substantial monastic complex which includes cylindrical, diaper masonry stupas and clay statues (Fussman, II/1, pp. 86-90; idem, II/2, pls. 83-87).

The Ḵʷāja Ṣafā monastic complex is situated some 800 m northwest of the Bālā Ḥesār (Ball, 2008, pp. 218-19; Fussman, II/1, pp. 81-83; Masson, 1842, II, p. 252; idem, III, pp. 92-98), to the east of the shrine of Ḵʷāja Ṣafā. Excavations by the Afghan Institute of Archaeology (commenced 2004) have shown the site to be extensive with at least one diaper masonry monastery and a large stupa (3.9 m ⨉ 3.10 m). Preliminary dating indicates two phases of construction (4th-5th cents. CE; Fussman, II/1, p. 82). The unexcavated site of Tepe Ḵazāna, at the extreme northern tip of the Šēr Darvāza, today lies under a hospital. The site’s dating (5th-7th cent. CE) is based on the chance discovery of some fifty figurines (Ball, 1982, I, no.1168; N. Dupree, L. Dupree, and Motamedi, pp.103-5, fig. 44; Fussman, II/1, pp. 80-81; Tissot, pp. 347-51).

A further two diaper masonry stupas and monasteries complexes are located on the south face of Tepe Marajān (‘Maranjān [sic] 1 and 2’) below the tomb of King Nādir Šāh (Ball, 1982, I, no.1173 and II, plan 49; Fussman and Le Berre, pp. 95-99). ‘Maranjān 2,’ the earlier site (Kushan, 1st-3rd cents. CE), is situated at the base of the slope and consists of a monastery and seven stupas. A reliquary was found inside the main stupa (Fussman, II/1, pp. 99-103; idem, II/2, pls. 76 [ground plan] and 77-81). The monastery at ‘Maranjān 1’ (3rd-4th and 5th-6th cents. CE) to the east was ornamented with wall frescoes. Two hordes of Kushano-Sasanid and Sasanid coins were recovered from the site (Carl and Hakin, pp. 7-12; Dollot, pp. 284-5; Fussman, II/1, pp. 95-99 and II/2, pls. 74-75; Fussman and Le Berre, pp. 95-99).


No pre-Timurid Islamic monuments survive in Kabul city. The construction of the Bālā Jui canal, is attributed to the reign of Uluḡ Beg (reigned 1411-1449 CE; Bābor-nāma, tr., pp. 200-201). It brought water from the Logar river to the Bāḡ-e Bābor and terminates in the upper Bālā Heṣār (Masson, 1842, II, pp. 284-85; Woodburn, p. 25). Scattered monumental fragments of a Timurid structure (4 m high, 11 m ⨉ 6 m base), probably a recreational pavilion, were recorded on the peak of Taḵt-e Šāh (Ball, 2008, p. 220; Bābor-nāma, tr., p. 200; Masson, 1842, II, pp. 234-35, 284-85; idem, Sketches, nos. 48-50). The baked brick, single domed tombs of Šēr-e Surḵ and the Ziārat-e Seh Uluḡ in the Ḥašmat Khan area are also attributed (stylistically) to the late Timurid period (Ball, 1982, I, no. 418; Burke, nos. 180, 181/Photo 430/3 [21, 20]; Dupree, p. 113; Ḵalil, pp. 30-31, 47-49). Excavations within the grave enclosure of the Bāḡ-e Bābor have uncovered foundations of a Timurid structure, possibly a tomb (Franke-Vogt, Barti, and Urban, p. 545 and fig. 7).

The most significant and best preserved Mughal monument of Kabul city is the Bāḡ-e Bābor, “Bābor’s Garden,” on the western slope of the Šēr Darvāza (for ground plans, see: Franke-Vogt, Barti, and Urban, p. 540; Leslie, pp. 5, 16-19; Parpagliolo, plans 1, 3-6). The present garden extends to some 11 hectares and was laid out during Bābor’s reign as a čahārbāḡ on the site of a Timurid tomb-garden (Bābor-nāma, tr., appendix V, p. lxxx; Franke-Vogt, Barti, and Urban, p. 545; Masson, 1842, II, p. 240; Parpagliolo, pp. 10, 12). German excavations since 2004 indicate that it overlays a substantial Kushano-Sasanid (3rd-4th cents. CE) Buddhist complex (DAI). Bābor’s own grave (d. 937/1530) lies on the fourteenth terrace with the graves of four of his descendants nearby (Atkinson, 1842a, pls. 23-24; Bābor-nāma, tr., pp. 709-10 and appendix V, p. lxxx; Bogdanov, pp. 6-12; Darmesteter, pp. 493, 496-99, 501-2; Ḵalil, pp. 219-21; Jackson, p. 199; Schinasi, pp. 33-35). In 1016/1607 Jahāngir ordered memorial stones placed at the head and foot of Bābor’s grave and a marble screen to surround the graves (Bābor-nāma, tr., p. 711; Bell, p. 143; Bogdanov, pp. 3-4; Darmesteter, pp. 494-96; Jackson, pp. 202-4; Ḵalil, pp. 218-19; Masson, 1842, II, pp. 238-39; idem, Sketches, no. 46; Sannino, pp. 51-55; Zajadacz-Hastenrath, p. 136). A prayer platform (Hindi/Urdu chabūtrā) was built on the fifteenth terrace and a cistern dug on the ninth terrace (AKTC, No. 1, 2006, p. 1; Franke-Vogte, Barti, and Urban, p. 547; Parpagliolo, p. 10). In 1638 Šāh Jahān commissioned a small but magnificent mosque on the thirteenth terrace faced in white marble (PLATE II; Bābor-nāma, tr., appendix V., pp. lxxx-lxxxi; Parpagliolo, pp. 10-11). Three open bays with cusped horseshoe arches surround the prayer area on three sides. A low parapet is capped by carved finials (Atkinson, 1842b, p. 308; idem, 1842a, pl. 24; Burke, no. 256/Photo 430/3(39); Niedermayer and Diez, pl. 36; Vigne, p. 154; Zander, figs. 30-32). An inscription on the east-facing parapet, dated 1056/1646, commemorates Šāh Jahān’s conquest of Balkh (Darmesteter, pp. 499-50; Jackson, pp.198-99; Thomas, p. 165).

PLATE II. The Bāḡ-e Bābor, Kabul: Šāh Jahān's marble mosque and victory inscription, April 2006, following repair and the rehabilitation of the grounds by the Agha Khan Trust for Culture. © J. L. Lee, 2006, all rights reserved.PLATE II. The Bāḡ-e Bābor, Kabul: Šāh Jahān's marble mosque and victory inscription, April 2006, following repair and the rehabilitation of the grounds by the Agha Khan Trust for Culture. © J. L. Lee, 2006, all rights reserved.View full image in a new tab

In the 1890s Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan (r. 1880-1901) constructed a pavilion on the site of Jahāngir’s reservoir, consisting of a central wooden veranda and pillars with residential wings on the north and south (Atkinson, 1842a, pl. 23; Franke-Vogt, Barti, and Urban, pp. 548-52; Niedermayer and Diez, pl. 35; Leslie, p. 12; Parpagliolo, p. 13 and figs. 3, 7-10, 13, 20-21). Much of the original latticework, the wooden pillars, and original tile work were replaced with modern materials during the ‘restoration’ of 1997 (SPACH, no. 4, 1998, p. 6). The Aga Khan Trust for Culture has now restored the surviving structure (AKTC, no. 3, 2006, p. 1). Fountains, in the European style (now replaced with replicas of original Mughal pools and channels) were also installed on the lower terraces (Niedermayer and Diez, pl. 31; Parpagliolo, p. 64 and fig. 3). ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan also constructed a brick and mud plaster palace for his wife, Bibi Ḥalima, in the southeast corner (Niedermayer and Diez, pl. 34; Leslie, p. 2; Parpagliolo, pp. 12 [plan 1], 21 and fig. 2; Schinasi, pp. 83-84). Recently restored, the palace is now used for cultural functions (AKTC, no. 5, 2007, p, 1; idem, 15, 2008, p. 1; Leslie, pp.18, 21). By the 1830s the graves, mosque, and gardens were neglected (Atkinson, 1842a, pl. 24; Burnes, I, pp. 141-42; Kennedy, II, p. 86; Masson, 1842, II, pp. 239-40). A series of earthquakes between 1830 and 1895 caused the collapse of much of the perimeter walling, the grave enclosure, and the mosque (Burke, nos. 256-58/Photo 430/3[39, 45, 88]; Parpagliolo, p. 11; Zajadacz-Hastenrath, p. 136). The mosque was restored in 1964-66 by IsMEO (Zander, figs. 20-31) but further damage was caused in the fighting of 1992-95, when the garden was on the front line. In 2002-8, as part of a wider rehabilitation program, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture installed a replica of the funerary screen and removed the 20th-century gazebo over Bābor’s grave (Bogdanov, pls. 1a-1b; Dupree, pp. 76-77; Niedermayer and Diez, pl. 37; Parpagliolo, p. 14 and figs. 26-29).

M. Schinasi (p. 216) provides an inventory of Kabul’s Mughal buildings, but most have been pulled down or built over during the 19th and 20th centuries. Nine of the ten Timurid-Mughal gardens identified by Beveridge survive merely as names of suburbs (Bābor-nāma, tr., appendix V., p. lxxx). Some Mughal elements of the Čahār Čatta bazaar survive (Bell, p. 94; Dupree, pp. 95-96; Saleq, pp. 5-12), though much of what is left is from the mid-19th-century rebuild (Schinasi, pp. 50-51). Constructed ca. 1641-52, the bazaar consisted of nine subdivisions, with two octagonal market spaces (čawk) at either end and a mosque (Atkinson, 1842b, pp. 273-74; Forster, II, p. 80; Kennedy, II, p. 98; Masson, 1842, II, pp. 264, 267-68; Mitford, pp. 88-96; Schinasi, p. 216; Vigne, p. 179). The mosque and bazaars were destroyed in 1842 by Gen. Pollock as retribution for the assassination of Sir William McNaughten (Kaye, II, pp. 638-40). Monumental fragments of a white marble Mughal mosque were recorded in and around the shrine of Ḵʷāja Zanbur, east of the Airport Road, including foliate friezes, chevron pillars, stalactite and vine-leaf lintels (Lee, 1985). A white marble dado, parts of which retain traces of fine decoration, has survived in the Goldasta mosque in the Tandursāzi quarter of the old city (Jolyon Leslie, personal communication, 2009). Clusters of Mughal graves and tombs are scattered around the old city. The Zīārat-e Seh Uluḡ contains the tombs of descendants of Uluḡ Beg (Dupree, p. 113; Ḵalil, pp. 43-44). Significant assemblages of Mughal graves are located in the cemeteries of Dōst Kāvand Vali of Deh Afḡānān, Seyed Jaʿfar Āqā in Andarābi, and outside the city at Ḵʷāja Musāfer at the junction of the Ḡazni-Paḡmān Road (Ḵalil, pp. 193-98, 236-37).


When Kabul became the capital of the Dorrāni kingdom, a significant amount of rebuilding took place, which resulted in the loss of many earlier monuments, particularly Mughal. While space does not allow discussion or an inventory of every Dorrāni monument, Schinasi has a comprehensive inventory of civil, dynastic, and nationalist monuments, including all known royal graves in Kabul from the late 18th century to the early 20th century (Schinasi, pp. 216-28).

The maqbara “mausoleum” of King Timur Šāh Saduzāy (d. 1207/1793), lies on the right (south) bank of the Kabul river in Čahārbāḡ, on the site of a built-over Timurid-Mughal garden (Bābor-nāma, tr., pp. 269, 346 and appendix V, p. lxxx; Burke, no. 241/Photo 430/3[40]; Ḵalil, p. 155; Samizay, p. 42; Schinasi, pp 55-56; Tūzuk-i-Jahāngīrī, I, p. 106). This imposing mausoleum is in the style of late 18th-century Mughal India, though the recessed, arched niches also evoke earlier, Timurid, forms. The grave is located in a crypt under a massive octagonal brick structure supporting double domes (Burke, no. 241/Photo 430/3[40]; Dupree, p. 76d). The mausoleum was never completed (Masson, 1842, II, pp. 227, 282-83; Schinasi, pp. 55-56). It was restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture during 2003-5 in a newly reclaimed park (AKTC, no. 6, 2007). The graves of three of Timur’s sons, including Šāh Šojāʿ-al-Molk (d. 1842), lie outside the tomb (Ḵalil, p. 155; Schinasi, p. 226). The mausoleum of Sardār Solṭān Moḥammad Telāi (1795-1861), half-brother of Amir Dōst Moḥammad Khan (Dupree, p. 118, who erroneously has great-grandfather; Schinasi, p. 211) lies on the southeastern side of Tepe Maranjān. This plain brick and stone, octagonal mausoleum is surrounded by a portico. The dome (now almost destroyed) was added in ca. 1890 (Schinasi, pp. 59-60 and pl. VII).

Around thirty major dynastic, administrative and religious buildings were commissioned during the reign of Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan (r. 1880-1901; Schinasi, pp. 217-18). His most significant architectural achievement, inasmuch as it changed the face of the center of modern Kabul, was the construction of a series of palaces and administrative buildings on the left (north) bank of the Kabul river. Now heavily encroached on by recent, unplanned urban development, the complex original stretched from Murād Ḵāna in the east to Deh Afḡānān in the west. At the heart of this new dynastic city lies the heavily fortified Arg, commonly referred to as the Delkuša Palace, though the Delkuša is, in fact, a distinct structure within the Arg complex. The Arg walls enclose an area of several hectares and includes administrative buildings, palaces, private residencies, audience halls and women’s quarters (ḥarāmsarāi). It is still the official residence of the president of Afghanistan (Schinasi, pp. 74-79). The crenellated walls of the Arg are punctuated at intervals with low round turrets and fortified gateways (Bell, pp. 55 for panorama photograph; Gray, pp. 35-39, 434). Inside the walls, the Amir’s palace, or Kōti, is an octagonal pavilion. Modifications made in 1928 surrounded it with a double height veranda and carved wooden pillars (Schinasi, pl. III). The roof domes are said to have been inspired by Russian Orthodox church architecture (Gray, p. 39; Schinasi, pp. 73-76 and pl. 3).

Outside the Arg walls, on the south side, on the western side of the park known as the Bāḡ-e Zarnegār, is the mausoleum of Amir ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Khan (d. 1901; Bell, p. 142; Dupree, pp. 67-68; Ḵalil, pp. 165-68; Schinasi, pp. 82-83 and pl. 6). Completed in 1892, it was known originally as the Bostān Sarāi, a semi-private palace (Martin, pp. 36-38). It incorporates elements of both European and Mughal architecture. Made of red brick, a material favored by the Amir, the entrance on the south is through a vaulted space with similar verandas on the east and west facades, with repeated, shuttered windows in the latter (AKTC, no. 12, 2008, p. 1; Schinasi, p. 82, pls. 5, 6). The central dome, corner towers and finials were added when the building was transformed into a mausoleum in 1902-5 (see PLATE III; Dupree, pp. 67-68; Ḵalil, pp. 165-66; Schinasi, p. 111). At the same time a mosque was added on the west (Schinasi, p. 111). The mausoleum was badly damaged by a British bomb in 1919 (Adamec, p. 117). On the west side of the Bāḡ-e Zarnegār is the Golistānsarāi, a small, single-storey, square palace built for the Amir’s queen, Bibi Ḥalima. It is said to have been designed by a Bukharan architect. Sections of original foliate stucco and carved wooden doors and frames still survive (Dupree, pp. 769-70; Schinasi, pp. 82-83 and pl. 1).

PLATE III. The mausoleum of Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan, Bāg-e Zarnegār, Kabul: the ground (first) floor is the original Bostān Sarāy palace; the square second floor and dome was added between 1902 and 1905. © J. L. Lee, 2006, all rights reserved.PLATE III. The mausoleum of Amir ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan, Bāg-e Zarnegār, Kabul: the ground (first) floor is the original Bostān Sarāy palace; the square second floor and dome was added between 1902 and 1905. © J. L. Lee, 2006, all rights reserved.View full image in a new tab

The Šahr Ārā palace and garden, in the modern district of the same name in northern Kabul, was constructed in 1899-1900 and was named after the Mughal garden of the same name, which was located on the left (north) bank of the Kabul river (Dupree, p. 128; Schinasi, pp. 32-33, 89 n. 105; Tūzuk-i-Jahāngīrī, I, p. 106). Much of the late 19th-century palace and gardens is overbuilt, partly by the Malalāy women’s hospital and the barracks to the east. An octagonal red brick tower, the Borj-e Šahr Ārā, and a fortified gateway, now used as the entrance to the barracks, as well as sections of the walls, in poor condition, have survived (Ārām, pp. 62-66; Schinasi, p. 89 and pls. 10-11). The religious center of ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Khan’s new city was the ʿId Gāh mosque, built between 1894 and 1897 (Schinasi, p. 99) on the right (south) bank of the Kabul river. One of the largest mosques in Kabul city, it is still used for major religious festivals and state occasions. Conceived on a vast scale, the open, paved courtyard accommodates thousands of worshippers. Behind the courtyard, the entrance of the mosque proper was dominated by three red brick, arched halls (iwāns; see AYWĀN) and flanked by a colonnade of arches with minarets in neo-Mughal style (Bell, pp. 144-45; Schinasi, pp. 99-100 and pl. 18).

Amir Amān-Allāh Khan (r. 1919-28) also was a prolific builder. A Europhile and ‘modernizer,’ he set out to create a capital city worthy of a newly-independent kingdom and decided to shift the center of government from the old city to a semi-rural site in southwest Kabul that he named Dār-al-Amān (Samizay, p. 36; Schinasi, pp. 151-61, see fig. 10 for ground plan). This grand and expensive scheme, however, was never completed. The complex of buildings and formal gardens, some of which still survive, is centered on two vast buildings. To the east is the Qaṣr-e Amānia palace, designed by the French archeologist, A. Godard (Dupree, p. 85; Schinasi, pp. 155-59). This imposing and monumental two-storey, domed building is described by Byron as “a French municipal building” (Byron, pp. 272-73; see Schinasi, pp. 159-61). To the west is the Amir’s palace at Tepe Tāj Bēg, the interior of which was once lavishly ornamented with lapis lazuli and imported European marble (Dupree, pp. 87-89; Schinasi, pp. 157-58). Both buildings were gutted and looted during the fighting of 1992-95 and remain as mere burnt-out shells.


  • General works.
  • Ludwig W. Adamec, Historical and Political Gazetteer of Afghanistan VI. Kabul, Graz, 1985 (reprint of 1910 Gazetteer of Afghanistan with annotations and maps).
  • Idem, Afghanistan, 1900-1923. A Diplomatic History, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967.
  • [AKTC] Aga Khan Trust for Culture, AKTC - Afghanistan Newsletter (reports on restoration of Baḡ-e Bābor, Timur Šāh’s tomb, and the Old City). F. Raymond Allchin and Norman Hammond, eds., The Archaeology of Afghanistan from earliest times to the Timurid period, Cambridge, 1978 (brief descriptions of monuments in context of historical development).
  • Warwick Ball (with the collaboration of Jean-Claude Gardin), The Archaeological Gazetteer of Afghanistan: Catalogue des sites archéologiques d’Afghanistan, 2 vols., Paris, 1982 (list of Kabul city sites; some appear under “Kabul,” others as distinct sites).
  • Idem, The Monuments of Afghanistan, History, Archaeology and Architecture, London, 2008 (updating and revisiting of the 1982 Gazetteer with inclusion of photographs).
  • P. E. Caspani, “La promenade archéologique de Kaboul,” Afghanistan 1/4, 1946, pp. 35-43.
  • Nancy Hatch Dupree (in collaboration with Ahmad Ali Kohzad), An Historical Guide to Kabul, Kabul, 1972, 2nd ed. (a general guide to Kabul’s monuments).
  • Nancy Hatch Dupree, Louis Dupree, and A. A. Motamedi, The National Museum of Afghanistan, An Illustrated Guide, Kabul, 1974 (descriptions and illustrations of Buddhist sculpture from Kabul).
  • Government of India, “Kabul,” in Gazetteer of Afghanistan IV, 4th ed., Calcutta, 1910 (brief descriptions of major monuments compiled from descriptions of European explorers and travelers).
  • Jonathan Lee, The ‘Ancient Supremacy’: Bukhara, Afghanistan and the Battle for Balkh, 1731-1901, Leiden, 1996.
  • Mohammad Rafi Samizay, Urban Growth and Residential Prototypes in Kabul, Afghanistan, Cambridge, Mass., 1974 (examination of Old City, bazaars, and history).
  • May Schinasi, Kaboul, 1773-1948, Naissance et croissance d’une capital royale, IsMEO Series Maior XIII, Napoli, 2008 (focuses particularly on Mughal and Dorrāni period, inventory of monuments and Dorrāni royal graves).
  • [SPACH] Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage, Newsletter (brief reports on state of some of Kabul’s monuments). Francine Tissot, Catalogue of the National Museum of Afghanistan, 1931-1985, UNESCO Art, Museums and Monuments Series, Paris, 2006.
  • Collections of photographs, sketches, and drawings.
  • James Atkinson, Sketches from Affghanistan, London,1842a (these sketches accompany his descriptions in Idem, 1842b).
  • Paul Bucherer, ed., Photographs by the Photographic School of Bengal Sappers and Miners, Liestal, 1996 (reproduction of photographic album of the Bengal Sappers and Miners entitled Photographs of Kabul and its Environs and Photographs of Kabul Workshops, of the Defences round Kabul and Sherpur, 1879-1880 (British Library, India Office Select Materials, Photo 197/1-66 and Library and Archive of the Royal Corps of Engineers, Album J1, 6/256).
  • R. Burford, Description of a view of the City of Cabul the capital of Affghanistan, with the surrounding Country, London, 1842.
  • John Burke, Afghan War Album, 1878-79, British Library, India Office Select Materials, Photo 430/3 (1-114). (Burke’s catalogue had its own internal numbering, which appears on each actual image. This number does not coincide with the hand list of Photo 430/3. Burke’s reference number is followed by the relevant Photo 430/3 accession no. in the text. This series of images include the Bālā Ḥeṣār, Bābor’s Gardens, and a plan of Kabul city).
  • Lillias Hamilton, photographs, 1893-95, Archive and Manuscripts of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, PP/HAM/A.31/1,4,5,10,14 (photographs of Bālā Ḥeṣār, Dorrāni dynastic and nationalistic monuments).
  • Omar Khan, From Kashmir to Kabul, the Photographs of John Burke and William Baker, 1860-1900, Ahmedabad, 2002 (reprints of Burke’s photographs of the Bālā Ḥeṣār).
  • Charles Masson, “Miscellaneous drawings of Afghanistan, Sind and North-Western Provinces … ,” 1833-38, British Library, India Office Records, Mss Eur G40. (Numbers in text relate to BL accession numbers for the individual sketch and not folio number. The series includes sketches of Buddhist sites in and around Kabul, the Bālā Ḥeṣār, Bābor’s Gardens.)
  • Oskar von Niedermayer and Ernst Diez, Afghanistan, Leipzig, 1924 (the series of photographs of the Bāḡ-e Bābor are of particular importance).
  • James Rattray, The Costumes of the various tribes, portraits of the ladies of rank, celebrated princes and chiefs, views of the principle fortresses and cities and temples from Afghaunistaun, London, 1848.
  • Buddhist and other pre-Islamic monuments.
  • J. Carl and J. Hackin, “Le monastère bouddhique de Tépé Marandjān,” in Diverses recherches archéologique en Afghanistan (1933-1940), ed. J. Hackin et al., MDAFA [Mémoires de la Délégation archéologique française en Afghanistan] VIII, Paris, 1959, pp. 7-1, figs. 1-20 (not consulted).
  • Gérard Fussman (with collaboration of Baba Murad and Éric Olliver), Monuments Bouddhiques de la Région de Caboul II/1. Inventaire et descriptions (comprehensive inventory of Buddhist monuments in Kabul city and province with excavation reports), II/2. Planches, résumes, index, MDAFA 22, Paris, 2008.
  • Gérard Fussman and Marc Le Berre, Monuments Bouddhiques de la Région de Caboul 1. Le Monastère de Gul Dara, MDAFA 22, Paris, 1976.
  • P. Hulin, “The Signs on the Kabul Silver Piece,” Numismatic Chronicle, 6th series, 14, 1954, pp. 174-76.
  • E. Jacquet, “Notice sur les découverts archéologiques faites dans l’Afghanistan par Martin Honigberger dans l’Afghanistan,” Journal Asiatique, 1836/7, pp. 385-404.
  • Charles Masson and Horace Hayman Wilson, Ariana Antiqua, a descriptive account of the Antiquities and Coins of Afghanistan with a memoir on the buildings called Topes, London, 1841; repr. New Delhi, 1998 (sketches of Buddhist stupas in Kabul city and province).
  • Bālā Ḥeṣār and city walls. P. E. Caspari, “Les Murs de Kabul,” Afghanistan 1/2, Kabul, 1946, pp. 33-36.
  • [DAFA] Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan and Institut National d’Archéologie Afghanistan, “Le Bala Hissar de Kaboul, Rapport d’évaluation archéologique 31 Mars – 8 Avril 2008” (unpubl.).
  • Alison L. Gascoigne and David C. Thomas, “Medieval Ghur Archaeological Project – End of Season Report, 2007” (unpubl., internal report).
  • Jonathan Lee, “The Armenians of Kabul and Afghanistan,” in Cairo to Kabul. Afghan and Islamic Studies presented to Ralph Pinder-Wilson, ed. Warwick Ball and L. Harrow, London, 2002, pp. 157-62.
  • Lt. J. L. D. Sturt, “Plan and Survey of the Bala Hissar or Fort of Cabul, showing the present state and nature of its defences … ,” 13 December 1839; published (in small scale) in Woodburn, pp. 8-9, fig. 5.
  • This large-scale plan (approx 1 inch = 200 ft) was reprinted as a lithograph in December 1878 (copy at Public Record Office, FO 925/2144).
  • Brig. C. William Woodburn, The Bala Hissar of Kabul, Revealing a Fortress-palace in Afghanistan, The Institution of Royal Engineers Professional Paper 1, Chatham, 2009 (the most comprehensive study to date; includes discussion of fortifications, interior structures, including axonometric reconstructions of the Mughal complex of Lower Bālā Ḥeṣār, historic plans, photographs and sketches).
  • Timurid and Mughal period. L. Bogdanov, “The Tomb of the Emperor Babur near Kabul,” Epigraphia Indo-Moslemica 23, Calcutta, 1923-24, pp. 1-12 (inscriptions at Bābor’s tomb).
  • [DAI] Deutsches Archäologische Institut, “Afghanistan: Kabul, Bagh-e Babur,” at (accessed 7 July 2009).
  • M. J. Darmesteter, “Inscriptions de Caboul, epitaphes de l’Empereur Bâbur et d’autres Princes Mogols,” Journal Asiatique 11, 1888, pp. 491-503.
  • Ute Franke-Vogt, K. Barti, and Th. Urban, “Bagh-e Babur, Kabul: Excavating a Mughal Garden,” in South Asian Archaeology, Proceedings of the 17th International Conference of the European Association of South Asian Archaeologists 7-11 July 2003, ed. U. Franke-Vogt and Hans-Joachim Weisshaar, Bonn, 2005, pp. 541-55 (German excavations in Bābor’s Gardens, 2002 to 2004 seasons).
  • A. V. Williams Jackson, “The Tomb of the Moghul Emperor Babur in Afghanistan,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 68/3 1929, pp. 195-205 (discussion of Bābor’s tomb, Šāh Jahān’s mosque and inscriptions).
  • Moḥammad Ebrāḥīm Ḵalīl, Mazārāt-e šāhr-e Kābol, Kabul 1339 Š./1960 (survey of tombs and shrines, including Timurid and Mughal tombs with inscriptions).
  • Jonathan L. Lee, “The Ziyārat of Khwāja Zanbur and its associated Shāh Jahān mosque, or shrine, in Kābul,” AIUON 45/2, 1985, pp. 193-97.
  • Jolyon Leslie, Babur’s Garden Rehabilitation Framework, Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Kabul, 2004.
  • Nur-al-Din Moḥammad Jahāngir Gurkani, The Tūzuk-i-Jahāngīrī, or Memoirs of Jahāngīr, tr. Alexander Rogers, ed. Henry Beveridge, 2 vols., London, 1909-19; repr., New Delhi, 2006, 2 vols. in one.
  • Maria Teresa Shephard Parpagliolo, Kābul. The Bāgh-i Bābur: a Project and a Research into the Possibilities of a Complete Reconstruction, IsMEO Restorations II, Rome, 1972.
  • Ahmad Šakib Sāleq, “Čahār Čatta-ye Kābul” Bāstān-šenāsi 6/2, Kabul, 1361 Š./1982, pp. 5-12 (not consulted).
  • Lidia Sannino, “Un Monumento Moghul da Recuperare: il Recinto Funerario di Ruqaya Sultan Began nel Bagh-e Babur a Kabul,” AIUON 45/1, 1985, pp. 49-73 (review of European descriptions of tombs, discussion of which tombs were enclosed by the screen).
  • Ẓahir-al-dīn Moḥammad Bābor, Bābor-nāma, tr. A. S. Beveridge, Leiden, 1905; repr., Lahore, 1975.
  • Salome Zajadacz-Hastenrath, “A Note on Babur’s Lost Funerary Enclosure at Kabul,” Muqarnas 14, 1997, pp. 136-42.
  • Giuseppe Zander, “L’IsMEO e i restauri di monumenti,” Il Veltro 16/5-6, 1972, pp. 576-89 (overview of Italian restoration).
  • Dorrāni dynastic monuments. Moḥammad Išān Ārām, “Ābed-e borj-e Šāhrārā qabl az tarmīm,” Bāstān-šenāsi 7/1, Kabul, 1364 Š./1985, pp. 62-66.
  • Travel writings and military memoirs. Rev. J. N. Allen, Diary of a March through Sinde and Affghanistan, London, 1843 (description of the Bālā Ḥeṣār and the lost Armenian church).
  • James Atkinson, The Expedition into Affghanistan: notes and sketches descriptive of the country contained in a personal narrative during the campaign of 1839 and 1840, London, 1842b (descriptions to accompany his Sketches).
  • M. J. Bell, An American Engineer in Afghanistan, Minneapolis, 1948; 2nd repr., Kabul, 2004.
  • Alexander Burnes, Travels into Bukhara: being an account of a Journey from India to Cabool, Tartary and Persia, vol. 1, London, 1834; repr., New Delhi, 1992.
  • Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana, London, 1937; repr., London, 1981.
  • René Dollot, L’Afghanistan, Paris, 1937.
  • George Forster, A Journey from Bengal to England through the northern parts of India, Kashmire, Afghanistan and Persia and into Russia by the Caspian Sea, 2 vols., London, 1808 (pagination in text refers to this edition only).
  • John Alfred Grey, My Residence at the Court of the Amir, London, 1895; repr., London, 1987.
  • Maj. W. Hough, A Narrative of the March and Operations of the Army of the Indus in the Expedition to Affghanistan in the Years 1838-1839, London, 1841.
  • John Kaye, History of the War in Afghanistan, 2 vols., London 1851; repr., Delhi, 1999.
  • Richard Hartley Kennedy, Narrative of the Campaign of the Army of the Indus in Sind and Kaubool in 1838-9, 2 vols., London, 1840.
  • Maj. Gen. Sir Charles Metcalfe MacGregor, War in Afghanistan, 1879-80, ed. William Trousdale, Detroit, 1985.
  • F. Martin, Under the Absolute Amir, London, 1907; repr., Lahore, 1998.
  • Charles Masson, Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Panjab, including a residence in those Countries from 1826 to 1838, 3 vols., London, 1842 (descriptions of Bālā Ḥeṣār, Bāḡ-e Bābor, and excavations of Buddhist sites); repr., New Delhi, 1997.
  • Maj. Reginald C. W. Mitford, To Caubul with the Cavalry Brigade, London, 1881; repr., Lahore, 1999 (1st ed. has a unique [?] sketch of the interior of Čahār Čatta bazaar before its destruction in 1842).
  • Maj. Gen. Sir G. S. Montcrieff, Canals and Campaigns. An Engineer Officer in India, 1877-1885, London, 1987.
  • Lowell Thomas, Beyond the Khyber Pass, New York, 1925 (description of Baḡ-e Bābor and Šah Jahān inscription).
  • G. T. Vigne, Personal Narrative of a visit to Ghuzni, Kabul, Afghanistan and a residence at the Court of Dost Muhamed, London, 1840; repr., New Delhi, 2005.
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