Baltit Fort – History

During the 14th & 15th Centuries Northern Pakistan consisted of a number of small independent states.

 

Among them were Hunza and Nager two traditional rival states, situated on opposite sides of the Hunza River. The rulers of these two states, known as the Thámo or Mir built various strongholds to express their power.

 

The Hunza rulers initially resided in the Altit Fort , however later as a result of a conflict between the two sons of the Mir of Hunza, Shah Abbas and Ali Khan, they shifted to Baltit Fort, making it the capital of the seat of Hunza. The power struggle between the two brothers eventually resulted in the death of the younger one, enabling Baltit Fort to further establish itself as the prime seat of power in the Hunza state.

 

The rich beauty of Baltit Fort can be traced to over seven hundred 700 years ago. Ayasho II, Tham / Mir of Hunza in the early 15th Century married Princess Shah Khatoon from Baltistan. As part of her dowry she brought with her architects and tradesman from Kashmir and Tibet. At the time Baltistan (previously known as ‘Little Tibet’) had very strong cultural and ethnical relations with Ladakh in Northern India. The structure of Baltit Fort was therefore influenced by the Ladakhi/Tibetan architecture, resembling elements of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

 

From this point on additions, renovations and changes to the building were continually made through the centuries by the long line of rulers of Hunza that followed.

 

A veritable treasure house for ancient forts, the North of Pakistan lost most of its glorious built heritage around the 19th century as a result of the destructive attacks by the Maharaja of Kashmir. However, in this regard people of Hunza were exceptionally fortunate to successfully defend against the invasions of Maharaja Kashmir four times. One of the biggest changes in the structure of Baltit Fort came with the invasion of the British in December 1891. Tham / Mir Safdarali Khan, ruler of Hunza and his wazir Dadu (Thara Baig III), fled to Kashgar in China for political asylum with their fellows and families. With the conquest of Hunza and Nager states by the British Forces in December 1891, the fortified wall and watch towers of the old Baltit village and watch towers of the Baltit Fort on its north-western end were demolished by the British authorities. The British installed Mir Safdarali Khan’s younger brother Tham / Mir Sir Muhammad Nazim Khan K.C.I.E, as the ruler of Hunza state in September 1892.

 

During his reign, Tham / Mir Sir Muhammad Nazim Khan made several major alterations to Baltit Fort. He demolished a number of rooms on the third floor and added a few rooms in the British colonial style on the front elevation, using lime wash and stained glass panel windows.

 

Baltit Fort remained officially inhabited until 1945, when the last ruler of Hunza, Mir Muhammad Jmamal Khan, moved to a new palace further down the hill in Karimabad, where the present Mir of Hunza Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan and his family reside.

 

With no proper authority entrusted to care for Baltit Fort, it was exposed to the ravages of time and over the years its structure weakened and began to deteriorate. His Highness Aga Khan IV initiated the restoration efforts for Baltit Fort in 1990, when Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan the son of last ruler of Hunza, Tham / Mir Muhammad Jamal Khan and his family generously donated the Fort to the Baltit Heritage Trust, a public charity formed for the explicit purpose of owning and maintaining the Fort. The restoration undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Geneva in association with the Aga Khan Cultural Service Pakistan, took six years to complete. The project was supported by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture as the main donor through its Historic Cities Support Programme, as well as by the Getty Grant Program (USA), NORAD (Norway) and the French Government.

 

The restored Fort, resplendent in its regal glory was inaugurated on September 29, 1996 in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan IV and the president of Pakistan Farooq Ahmad Khan Laghari. It is now operated and maintained by the Baltit Heritage Trust.