The plateau setting of Islamabad and Rawalpindi has revealed evidence of a prehistoric culture flourishing in the region, and it is known that a Buddhist town once existed on the site of Rawalpindi.
The city of Rawalpindi had a turbulent development, its strategic location attracting the attention of successive invading forces. Protected as a Sikh garrison town and astride the Grand Trunk Rd, it eventually grew in importance as a trading centre, before coming to the attention of the British, who seized the city from the Sikhs in 1849. The British built Asia’s largest cantonment south of the city (cantonments were the tidy colonial enclaves built next to ‘native’ towns). Rawalpindi ‘Cantt’ is still the headquarters of the Pakistan army. It didn’t take long for the heat-sensitive British to develop their cool hill retreat at nearby Murree.
As Karachi was too far from everything, a decision was made in the 1950s to build a new capital near Rawalpindi and the summer hill stations. To avoid urban chaos and decay, architect-planner Konstantinos Doxiades’ idea was to let Islamabad grow sector by sector across a grid, each sector having its own residences, shops and parks. Construction began in 1961, during which time Rawalpindi enjoyed a brief period as Pakistan’s temporary capital. Today, Islamabad is a slowly expanding city, with the ongoing construction of broad new roads and modern commercial buildings.