Port of Banbhore
Department of Archaeology and Museums
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The Site of Banbhore is located on the Northern Bank of Gharo Creak, 65 Kilometre East of Karachi. It has a sequence from the first century BC to the thirteenth century AD. Whilst its earlier phases are waterlogged, the site’s surface remains represent the best preserved early Islamic urban form in South Asia and the region’s best preserved mediaeval port. The port’s plan consist of five main zones, the most impressive of which, a 10 meters high mound, stand on the shore of the creek itself. Measuring 610 by 305 meters, the mound is delineated by a 3 meters wide limestone fortification wall with 46 rounded bastions and 3 gates. The latter appear to be connected to a grid-iron arrangement of streets. An interior wall divides the mound into a Western and Eastern Sector, with the floor plans of major structures preserved on the surface of the latter half. These largest of these have been identified as a mosque, administrative quarter and serai or inn. The ground plan of its stone-built mosque is particularly well preserved and consisted of a square, plan measuring 34 by 35 meter with a central open courtyard surrounded by cloisters. The Western cloister formed the prayer hall and its flat roof was supported by 33 wooden pillars resting sandstone bases. There was no trace of a mehrab, but an inscription dating to 727 AD, (some 16 years after the conquest of Sindh by the Arab General, Muhammad Bin Qasim), indicates that this is the best preserved example of an early mosque in the region – others having been rebuilt. Indeed, the evidence of the reuse of carved stone from earlier Hindu structures, suggests that the site had undergone a major shift in cultural and ritual focus. Beyond the walls there are two substantial, unfortified suburbs to the East and the North West, both consisting of the eroded remains of mud brick structures. The mound’s North Eastern corner abuts a large artificial tank or reservoir – the port’s drinking supply – and a large industrial area stretches along the latter’s western edge with evidence of textile processing, glass-making, glazing and metallurgy. The presence of the industrial sector and the port’s wealth of imported ceramic and metal goods, in combination with its strategic siting at the mouth of the Indus, reinforces the pivotal role of Banbhore linking the international Indian Ocean traders with the resources of the interior. Its role ended when the Indus shifted in the eleventh century AD and the creek silted, underlying the role that nature has played in shaping the heritage of the delta.