Chilzina, or the Forty Steps


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.

Last updated: September 30, 2016