Balar Hissar, Kabul, c. 1879

A selection from the British Library’s stunning collection of images from the Second Afghan War (1878-1880). The Bala Hissar (Persian for “high fortress”) is a 5th century fort on the Kuh-e-Sherdarwaza (Mountain of the Lion’s Gate). The walls are 20 feet high and 12 feet thick, and it is actually two distinct facilities; the lower fort contained stables, barracks and the former royal palaces; the upper fort was home to an armoury and a jail.

The Bala Hissar will no doubt be familiar to readers of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman novel, as it figures prominently in the events leading up to Major-General William Elphinstone’s disastrous retreat from Kabul.

Burke, John. Panoramic view looking along the walls of the Bala Hissar Fort in Kabul, Afghanistan, with Shah Shahid Gate in foreground. (The British Library)

Bengal Sappers and Miners, Indian Army. Bala Hissar from Sher Denwaza. (The British Library)

Bengal Sappers and Miners, Indian Army. Upper Bala Hissar, looking down onto the palace and gardens, with the Kabul Valley beyond. (The British Library)

Burke, John. Looking along the wall of the mighty Bala Hissar fort towards the burnt-out Residency in Kabul. (The British Library)

Burke, John. Burnt-out ruins of the Residency at the Bala Hissar fort in Kabul. The British Resident, Major Sir Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari, KCB, CSI, was killed here along with his staff—and 71 defending officers and enlisted men—on September 3rd, 1879 by mutinous Afghan troops. (The British Library)

Burke, John. Upper Bala Hissar from gate above Residency, Kabul. (The British Library)

Burke, John. Upper Bala Hissar from west. (The British Library)

Burke, John. South face, Upper Bala Hissar. (The British Library)

Burke, John. The Diwan-i-Am or audience hall of the Amir at Kabul, Afghanistan, with the fortress of Bala Hissar in the background. (The British Library)

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