HISSAR, a district in Central Asia, lying between 66° 30′ and 70° E. and 39° 15′ and 37° N. and dependent on the amir of Bokhara. It forms that part of the basin of the Amu-darya or Oxus which lies on the north side of the river, opposite the Afghan province of Balkh. The western prolongation of the Tian-shan, which divides the basin of the Zarafshan from that of the upper Amu, after rising to a height of 12,300 ft., bifurcates in 67° 45′ E. The main chain, the southern arm of this bifurcation, designated the Hissar range, but sometimes called also Koh-i-tau, forms the N. and N.W. boundaries of Hissar. On the W. it is wholly bounded by the desert; the Amu limits it on the S. and S.E.; and Karateghin and Darvaz complete the boundary on the E. Until 1875 it was one of the least known tracts of Central Asia. Hissar is traversed from north to south by four tributaries of the Amu, viz. the Surkhab or Vakhsh, Kafirnihan, Surkhan and Shirabad-darya, which descend from the snowy mountains to the north and form a series of fertile valleys, disposed in a fan-shape, within which lie the principal towns. In the N.W. boundary range between Khuzar and Derbent is situated the defile formerly called the Iron Gate (Caspian Gates, Bāb-al-Hadīd, Dar Ahanīn and in Chinese T’ie-mēn-kuan) but now styled Buzghol-khana or the Goat-house. It was also called Kohluga, said to be a Mongol word meaning barrier. This pass is described as a deep but narrow chasm in a transverse range, whose rocks overhang and threaten to choke the tortuous and gloomy corridor (in places but five paces wide) which affords the only exit from the valley. In ancient times it was a vantage point of much importance and commanded one of the chief routes between Turkestan and India. Hsüan Tsang, the Chinese traveller, who passed through it in the 7th century, states that there were then two folding doors or gates, cased with iron and hung with bells, placed across the pass. Clavijo, the Spanish ambassador to the court of Timur, heard of this when he passed through the defile nearly 800 years later, but the gates had then disappeared.
The Surkhan valley is highly cultivated, especially in its upper portion. It supplies Bokhara with corn and sheep, but its chief products are rice and flax. The town of Hissar (pop. 15,000) commands the entrance into the fertile valleys of the Surkhan and Kafirnihan, just as Kabadian at the southern end of the latter defends them from the south. Hissar was long famous for its damascened swords and its silk goods. Kulab produces wheat in abundance, and gold is brought thither from the surrounding districts. Kabadian is a large, silk-producing town, and is surrounded with rice-fields.
The population consists principally of Uzbegs and Tajiks, the former predominating and gradually pushing the Tajiks into the hills. On the banks of the Amu there are Turkomans who work the ferries, drive sheep and accompany caravans. Lyuli (gipsies), Jews, Hindus and Afghans are other elements of the population. The climate of the valleys of Hissar and Kulab is pleasant, as they are protected by mountains to the north and open towards the south. They produce all the cereals and garden plants indigenous to Central Asia. Cotton is grown in the district of Shirabad; and cotton, wheat, flax, sheep and rock-salt are all exported.
History.—This country was anciently part of the Persian empire of the Achaemenidae, and probably afterwards of the Graeco-Bactrian kingdom, and then subject to the invading Asiatic tribes who broke up that kingdom, e.g. the Yue-chi. It was afterwards conquered by the Ephthalites or White Huns, who were subdued by the Turks in the early part of the 7th century. It then became subject successively to the Mahommedan invaders from Persia, and after to the Mongol dynasty of Jenghiz Khan, and to Timur and his successors. It subsequently became a cluster of Uzbeg states and was annexed by the amir of Bokhara (q.v.) in 1869–1870, soon after the Russian occupation of Samarkand. (J. T. Be.; C. El.)