Gandhara is the name of an ancient kingdom (Mahajanapada), located in modern day northern Pakistan and parts of eastern Afghanistan. Gandhara was located mainly in the vale of Peshawar, the Potohar plateau and on the Kabul River. Its main cities were Purushapura (modern Peshawar), literally meaning “City of Man”, Varmayana (modern Bamyan) and Takshashila (modern Taxila). The Kingdom of Gandhara lasted from the early 1st millennium BC to the 11th century AD. It attained its height from the 1st century to the 5th century under the Buddhist Kushan Kings. The Hindu term Shahi is used by history writer Al-Biruni to refer to the ruling Hindu dynasty that took over from the Turki Shahi and ruled the region during the period prior to Muslim conquests of the 10th and 11th centuries.
Finally, the light of Islam penetrated in this part of the world as early as 7th century AD. from the west with the Arabs and during the 10th century AD from the north with the Turks. Islam replaced the early way of life of worshipping idols and introduced new philosophy of faith in one God. With Islam in came a new culture in this land from Arabia and Central Asia. Hence, a new type of architecture, hitherto unknown in this area, was introduced. Tens of thousands of Mosques, Madrassas, tombs and gardens were created by the Muslim rulers all over the Sub-Continent. The new style of Islamic architecture prevailed and matured in this land for over a thousand years.
Swat which has also been termed as ‘valley of hanging chains’ by Chinese pilgrims in the past possess treasures of Gandhara civilization. The Last Wali of Swat State Miangul Abdul Haq Jahanzeb took concrete measures for its protection in the shape of Swat Museum. This museum has a huge collection of Gandhara sculptures from the Buddhist sites in Swat. The original museum was constructed by DOAM with the contribution of the Wali Swat and the Italian Mission in 1958, when a twin Museum was inaugurated in Rome (Museo Naziolae d’Arte Orientale).
The Relation of Swat and Italian Archeological Mission is unique and time tested. The Italian ambassador is of the opinion that Swat and Italy had a longstanding relation that would be strengthened more in th future. Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan had been working on different archaeological sites since 1955 that started work under the guidance of legendary Prof Giuseppe Tucci. During the last 60 years, the Italian mission successfully worked on many projects to preserve the archaeological sites in Pakistan, particularly in district Swat. The people of Swat in general and historian as well as archaeologists owe a debt of gratitude to the Italian Archeological Mission. Presently the Mission is headed by Dr Luca Maria Olivieri. He has been engaged in the field of archaeological excavations and research since September 1987. The Government of Pakistan has also conferred ‘Sitar-e-Imtiaz’ for his work precious work on Swat. He is one of the most prominent researchers on ancient Uddiyana engaged exploring Swat history. He has proved that Swat was the ancient Uddiyana Kingdom and the origin of Vajrayana Buddhism.
Written By: Jalal Uddin Yusufzai