History of Altit Fort

By Momina Aftab

Surrounded by the most heavenly beauty the region has to offer, Altit Fort has been standing tall and mighty in front of the magnanimous Karakoram since the 11th century. What truly makes Altit Fort a product of an architectural virtuoso is not only the fact that it sits atop a cliff; about 1000 feet above the Hunza River, it is in its foundation that was laid more than a millennia ago and is still intact.

Having survived attacks by many adversaries and natural disasters, Altit Fort is the oldest monument of Gilgit-Baltistan and is known as the ‘birthplace’ of the Hunza kingdom.

The word Altit is derived from a Tibetan word that means ‘this side down’. The village lore states that the fort was built by craftsmen from Gilgit-Baltistan who came all the way here to construct it on their Princess’s command who was a Balti and married to then Mir of Hunza.

The fort was built for defense purposes but it also served as Hunza’s capital until the seat of power was shifted to Baltit Fort 3 centuries later. It is said that the fort was constructed in 6 different phases while using different natural levels of rock.

The residents of this area, Burusho, are believed to descend from an ancient line of White Huns. The earliest inhabitants of the city are believed to belong to the army of Alexander the Great.  According to the lore told by elders, the white Huns brought the language ‘Bruchiski’ here in around 47 A.D. Back then, the fort was known as ‘Hunukushal’ that translates to ‘village of Huns’. It is believed that they migrated from Huang-Ho valley of China.

The lore further states that the name of the fort was changed to Broshal later that translates to ‘a village of Bruchiski speakers’. Major religions practiced were Shamanism, Buddhism and Hinduisim. Later in 15th century, Islam was brought to the region. Currently, Ismailism is practiced among the most of locals.

The most fascinating structure of the Altit Fort, the one and only Shikari tower, was constructed strategically to keep an eye on all of the kingdom and to watch out for external threats such as Russians and Chinese armies of that time. Legend has it that the tower was not only used for surveillance purposes but prisoners on death row also met their brutal end by being thrown off from its edge.

This gargantuan rock structure holds within its walls many secrets and controversies dating back to ancient times. One of the interesting ones is the tale of two princely brothers from Hunza’s royal family who went to war after a quarrel, resulting in one brother being buried alive by the other against the famous watch tower.

The fort was a cultural center of the sorts in the region for many decades. Traders from around the globe would bring their merchandise, travelling through China on the famous Silk Route and have dealings with colonizers of the city at the fort.