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The Dewan-i-am looking towards Upper Bala Hissar [Kabul].

The Dewan-i-am looking towards Upper Bala Hissar [Kabul].

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1879

Shelfmark: Photo 430/3(29)

Item number: 29

Length: 19.6

Width: 30.8

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph showing the Diwan-i-Am or audience hall of the Amir at Kabul, Afghanistan, with the fortress of Bala Hissar in the background, taken in 1879 by John Burke. It is part of a series of pictures of Afghanistan taken by Burke during the Second Afghan War (1878-80), which form an important visual document of the country as it was during the time of the Great Game or Anglo-Russian rivalry in the region. In 1878 Burke accompanied the British forces into Afghanistan, despite being rejected for the role of official photographer. He financed his trip by advance sales of his photographs 'illustrating the advance from Attock to Jellalabad'.

British forces re-occupied Kabul in October 1879 in a fresh phase of the war, as a consequence of the killing of the British Resident Sir Louis Cavagnari and his mission in September 1879. General Roberts who led them aimed to secure his force at Kabul and establish a line of communication with the rest of the British forces via the Khyber Pass. The cantonment here offered a secure and easily defendable position close to the city; it was large enough to accommodate the troops and provided easy access eastwards through the Khyber Pass towards Peshawar, northwards towards Kohistan and westwards into the Chardeh Plain.

The ancient citadel of Bala Hissar or High Fortress dated from the 5th century AD and encapsulated Afghan history, with successive invasions and rulers adding to and rebuilding different parts of it. It was the seat of power and much of Kabul city lay within it and its rulers sheltered within its thick walls. When the British under General Roberts occupied Kabul in 1879 they stayed here too. When leaving, they partially destroyed it as a lesson to the Afghans.

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