One of South Asia’s richest archaeologicalsites, Taxila is a must-see trip from Islamabad, particularly if you have an interest in Buddhism and the art of Gandhara. The city excavations, most of which are found around the museum, are open to the public, along with dozens of smaller sites over a 25-sq-km area.
Gandhara is the historical name for the Peshawar Plain, and Taxila has always been one of Gandhara’s more important cities. In the 6th century BC, the Achaemenians made Takshasila (Taxila) the Gandharan capital, at a site now called Bhir Mound. In 326 BC Alexander the Great paused here en route to India. The Mauryan emperor Ashoka, a patron of Buddhism, built a university here, to which pilgrims and scholars came from all over Asia. In about 180 BC, Bactrian Greeks developed a ‘new’ Taxila, at the site called Sirkap.
In the 1st century AD came the Kushans, building their own city at the Sirsukh site. Until the 3rd century Taxila was the cultured capital of an empire stretching across the subcontinent and into Central Asia. It was the birthplace of a striking fusion of Greek and Indian art, and also the place from which Buddhism spread into China. The city fell into obscurity after it was destroyed by White Huns in the 5th century. The modern-era excavation of the site was led by Sir John Marshall between the years of 1913 and 1934.