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Chilzina and the Forty Steps of Kandahar

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 A short tower can seem imposing on a featureless plain. A tiny word can say a lot if it’s on a blank wall. And 40 simple steps can tell a complex story of perseverance and dominance, if they’re carved into the mountainside leading to its peak.

That’s the scene at Chilzina, otherwise known as the “Forty Steps of Kandahar.” Carved into a mountain peak at the western boundary of what was “Old Kandahar” (conveniently located in the same place as the current Kandahar), this monument was an imposing symbol etched upon the natural defense formed by Kandahar’s western mountains. And the man who put them there knew exactly what he was doing.

Babur was the first emperor of the Mughal Empire, and he did not come by that title lightly. He literally bent the world before him to his will, conquering much of central Asia and the Indian subcontinent to form his empire and expand the influence of his Persian culture. A descendant of both Timur and Ghenghis Khan, Babur wanted people to know his name as well.

Thus at Chilzina, he carved a staircase into a mountain and hollowed out an enclave for recording his history. Into the wall of that enclave, Babur carved the story of his conquests in the Mughal Empire in Persian for all to see. He then carved statues of two lions, chained, at the top of the stairs, guarding the entrance to the enclave.

While the staircase is impressive indeed and the inscription is the point of it all, the lions remain the best example of his legacy. Because they were chained, even these guardians, shaped purposefully and painstakingly out of bare stone, signified his power and control over them, there at his service, just as he saw the world around him.

SOURCES 
Chil Zena (“40 steps”) complex, offering a commanding view of Kandahar, and on the mountainside of which the bilingual edict is carved. Chil Zena commands the entrance to the city of Kandahar when coming from the west.
Chil Zena (“40 steps”) complex, offering a commanding view of Kandahar, and on the mountainside of which the bilingual edict is carved. Chil Zena commands the entrance to the city of Kandahar when coming from the west.
Chil Zena (“40 steps”) complex, offering a commanding view of Kandahar, and on the mountainside of which the bilingual edict is carved. Chil Zena commands the entrance to the city of Kandahar when coming from the west.
اړوند پوسټونه
Kandahar (Afghanistan), Forty Steps of Chilzina
Date of Photograph
Not after 1964
Photographer’s Note
Kandahar [steps leading to Chilzina, rock-cut chamber that served as a defense wall for Kandahar]
Photographer
Waugh, Douglas, 1918-
Chil Zena – The 40 steps of Kandahar 1960
This photograph of the Chilzina and the “Forty Steps” is from an album of rare historical photographs depicting people and places associated with the Second Anglo-Afghan War. The Chilzina is a chamber carved from the mountain rock that was part of the old citadel of Kandahar, built by the first Mughal emperor, Ẓahīr al-Dīn Muḥammad Bābur (1483–1530), in the early 16th century. Inside the chamber near the summit, reached by forty steps, are Persian inscriptions detailing Bābur’s conquests in India and elsewhere in Asia. A battle between Amir Abd al-Raḥmān Khān and his cousin Ayūb Khān took place near the base of the steps in 1881. The ruins of the old citadel, which was destroyed in 1738, are visible in the center of the photograph, above the dried-fruit seller sitting with two other people. The Second Anglo-Afghan War began in November 1878 when Great Britain, fearful of what it saw as growing Russian influence in Afghanistan, invaded the country from British India. The first phase of the war ended in May 1879 with the Treaty of Gandamak, which permitted the Afghans to maintain internal sovereignty but forced them to cede control over their foreign policy to the British. Fighting resumed in September 1879 after an anti-British uprising in Kabul, and finally concluded in September 1880 with the decisive Battle of Kandahar. The album includes portraits of British and Afghan leaders and military personnel, portraits of ordinary Afghan people, and depictions of British military camps and activities, structures, landscapes, and cities and towns. The sites shown are all located within the borders of present-day Afghanistan or Pakistan (a part of British India at the time). About a third of the photographs were taken by John Burke (circa 1843–1900), another third by Sir Benjamin Simpson (1831–1923), and the remainder by several other photographers. Some of the photographs are unattributed. The album possibly was compiled by a member of the British Indian government, but this has not been confirmed. How it came to the Library of Congress is not known.

Chil Zena – The 40 steps of Kandahar 1990
Chil Zena – The 40 steps of Kandahar
1980
Chil Zena – The 40 steps of Kandahar
1900
Chil Zena – The 40 steps of Kandahar
2010
Chil Zena – The 40 steps of Kandahar
1940
Ashoka’s Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription is located on the mountainside of Chil Zena.
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