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BALTIT FORT

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"The Hunza valley, a region within the Northern Areas of Pakistan, close to the border with China, reflects the dramatic terrain of the Karakoram Mountain Range, is inhabited by the Ismailis. Hunza was an autonomous feudal kingdom ruled by the Mir until 1974, when it became part of Pakistan's Northern Areas. The history of the Baltit Fort is not precisely known. It was only at the turn of the last century that occupying British forces, compiled written descriptions and some photographic records. According to the local traditions, ascertained by recent scientific testing, the fort was built eight hundred years ago and became a part of the dowry when a princess of Baltistan married the reigning prince of Hunza. More than 70 phases of construction were identified using archaeological techniques during the survey and conservation of the Fort. One of Baltit's earliest phases was dated by Carbon 14 tests and found to be more than 700 years old. The fort, which was described by C.P. Skrine in his Chinese Central Asia as the "most impressively situated mediaeval castle in the world," Until 50 years ago, it remained the residence of the Mirs of Hunza. The plan of the building indicates that it began with a nucleus of one or two fortified houses, which then evolved into a fort towering above the village. The second storey and part of a third were added at different moments over time. The top storey was modified by adding verandas, thus transforming the structure from a fort into a palace.

In 1990, Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan donated the fort to the BHT (Baltit Heritage Trip). This donation enabled The Aga Khan Trust for Culture to sponsor the restoration work. The conservation project had to cope with extraordinary structural, geotechnical and logistical problems due to precarious condition of the edifice, the steep slope, the lack of soil stability and the remoteness of the area. One of the HCSP's main objectives in this project was to introduce and promote internationally recommended conservation standards and practices in Pakistan. Whenever possible, original construction techniques and materials were used for repairs, based on corresponding research and experiments. The site team had restored the physical shell of the building to a satisfactory state of structural stability, including the strengthening of walls, floors and roofs. Minor functional adjustments were required for the use of the building as a museum and cultural center, such as the addition of basic electrical and plumbing services, etc. The restoration was also seen as an opportunity for training young conservationists from Pakistan, as well as for the revival of traditional crafts, architects, engineers and local craftsmen have benefited from the site training process, complemented by seminars, workshops and special training courses from outside of the country.

The Baltit Fort Project, an old landmark of Islamic architecture has been finally brought back to its former splendid by the Historic Cities Support Programme (HCSP) of The Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The Fort was restored at a total cost of $. 2.15 million by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Getty Grant Programme and the Norwegian bilatered aid programme, NORAD, committed $. 200,000 and $. 450,000 respectively to the restoration project. The restoration work was completed in about five years. Accordingly, an inauguration ceremony of Baltit Fort took place in presence of President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari of Pakistan and the Present Imam and 350 guests and delegates from all over the world on Sunday, September 29, 1996. Speaking on the occasion, the President said, "This intervention effort is not limited just to the physical restoration of the fort. The project represents a major undertaking both in the fields of development and culture. The effort goes beyond just tourism." In his speech, the Imam said, "As the prime historic landmark of Hunza, the fort is a major tourist attraction and a potential source of income for the local community. It can, therefore, be expected that the restoration project itself will act as a dynamic factor of change."

The Baltit Fort will be run as a museum and a cultural center by a public foundation, the Baltit Heritage Trip. After turning into a museum and a culture center, the Baltit Fort will be in a better position to contribute towards the economic, social and cultural development of the rapidly urbanizing village of Karimabad, Hunza. Apart from its importance as a historical monument, Baltit Fort has great cultural and symbolic value for the local community and constitutes a major economic resource for tourism.


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