Taxila, also known as the Ancient Gandhāran city of Takshashila, is an ancient site in the Punjab Province of Pakistan dating back as far as the 6th century BC.
History of Taxila
What makes Taxila such a significant archaeological site is the fact that, over its 500 year lifespan, it witnessed the evolution of numerous civilisations, including the Persians, Greeks and Hindus. It was also an important site in the development of the art of Gandhara. Its location – at an important junction between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, made it something of a cultural melting pot and a desirable site to have control of.
Taxila (literally, City of Cut Stone in Sanskrit) itself is actually made up of a complex of ruins, including the Khanpur Mesolithic cave, several Buddhist monasteries, medieval mosques and four settlements called Bhir, Sirkap, Saraidala and Sirsukh. In particular, Bhir was probably the earliest settlement in Taxila and, in its excellent condition, boasts street structures, house foundations and stone walls. Alexander the Great conquered Bhir during his victorious route through Taxila.
Sirkap, which was probably founded by the Greeks in the 2nd century BC and destroyed by the Kushanas in the 1st century AD, also offers a wealth of both religious and cultural archaeological finds, particularly as relates to its Hellenistic structure.
Taxila faded into irrelevance as the trade routes it sat on declined steadily, and it was largely destroyed by the Huns in the 5th century AD. The ruins were rediscovered by Europeans in the mid 19th century, and have been excavated over a period of over a century.
Taxila is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a great place to discover the roots of Buddhism, the art of Gandhara and the ancient culture of the subcontinent. It is one of Pakistan’s most popular tourist sites.
The ruins cover a large area: go with good shoes and plenty of time on your hands in order to explore properly and do them justice. There’s a small but decent museum of Taxila, which includes some archaeological finds and gives a decent overview of the site’s history. Don’t expect great things – and bear in mind facilities i.e. toilets and refreshments are pretty non-existent.
Getting to Taxila
Taxila is about 45 minutes drive from Islamabad via the N5. Try public transport at your peril!
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