January  2008



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 Page  3  of  3

The Historic Altit Settlement, Hunza Valley

Award of Distinction


The village of Altit is located at the foot of the old Altit Fort. With a history dating back over 900 years, it is known for its characteristic Hunza Valley urban architecture. Threatened by decay, the village was restored as a pilot intervention that has demonstrated the feasibility of preserving and rehabilitating such historic settlements, so that people can sustain life at contemporary standards in harmony with the traditional built environment. The project was completed in 2004 through a partnership between NGOs, government and the local community.

Located at the foot of the 900-year-old Altit Fort, the first capital of the Mirs of Hunza, Altit is one of the three oldest human settlements in this beautiful valley – the other two being Ganish and Karimabad. Most scholars agree that Altit was established in the 15th century A.D.  The Altit polo ground, considered one of the oldest in the region, is surrounded by the newer sections of the Altit village, while the recently constructed Karakoram Highway is just 3 kms from the village.

The original settlement was built on rocky, uncultivable terrain – in order to conserve valuable agricultural land - a wise land-use decision in a region where fertile land is scarce. The houses epitomized indigenous architectural forms, building techniques and crafts such as stonework and wood carving, and materials well adapted to local hazards such as earthquakes and a harsh climate. More importantly, the historic settlement, with its compact design and common spaces, supported a culture of cooperation, respect and mutual interdependence. The dense clustering of houses in the settlement embodied the history of the area, and served as a living monument to the architectural, artistic and social traditions of the community.

The old settlement consists of a series of interconnected stone houses, some of them as much as three hundred years old. The dwellings are built up against and on top of each other, following the contours of the site and of previous construction. Narrow streets, pathways and cul-de-sacs run through the settlement.

However, a period of rapid social change in the region during 1990s contributed to the deterioration of the physical and social fabric of the settlement. The abolition of the Mirdom, the building of the Karakoram Highway and the advent of NGO and government interventions in the area had the collective effect of decreasing poverty and morbidity and raising people’s expectations for a better standard of living. An indirect consequence of these largely positive changes, however, was a trend toward out- migration from the khun (the original settlement of Altit), with its cramped spaces and inconvenient and unsanitary living conditions (due to a lack of modern facilities and to the practice of keeping livestock inside the house), in favour of newly constructed houses in the surrounding fields. The physical condition of the khun became increasingly dilapidated and its common spaces and historic houses were neglected. Moreover people constructed unplanned and ugly structures, which caused considerable damage to its historic character.

In 2000,  the Aga Khan Cultural Service in Pakistan (AKCSP), supported by funding from the Japanese Government, undertook the task of revitalizing the 14,500 square-meter old settlement by upgrading the physical structures and providing modern facilities that would offer its residents modern living in a historic ambience. The project focused on the historic houses, the streets and lanes, the common spaces (jataq, biaks and baldis), and the reservoir or pharee.

The rehabilitation process included the piping of clean drinking water into each dwelling, the introduction of a modern sanitation system in difficult mountain terrain, underground electrification of the settlement, the revitalization of common public spaces, improvements to the exterior of the historic houses and the paving of lanes and cul-de-sacs with stone. The project involved the community, and succeeded in changing the attitudes of the people toward the settlement, bringing many families back into their historic ancestral homes.

The residents have relocated their animals to pens outside the settlement, making the houses more spacious and more sanitary. All settlement homes now have a separate washroom.

It also created a new attitude towards the natural environment, and has thereby nearly stopped the demolition of historic buildings and the random construction of new houses in the scenic farming terraces. In addition to establishing new standards of health and hygiene, it has revived traditional crafts and building techniques developed over centuries.

Three years after the project’s completion, the streets are clean, the services functional, and the common spaces are attractive and full of activity. The streets are now full of people and old settlement is once again a vibrant community. The jataq, a large public area situated at the main entrance of the settlement, has been used for a number of communal celebrations and functions, such as the recent visit of His Highness the Aga Khan and Prince Charles and even for weddings.





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