Quetta is the capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province and makes an excellent base for exploration of Balochistan. The name Quetta is derived from the Pashto (the language of Afghanistan) word "Kwatta" which means a fort and relates to the fact that the city is a natural fort, being ringed by hills, dominated by three mountains: Chiltan, Zarghun and Koh-e-Murdar, all of which are capped with snow in the winter.
Strategically, Quetta is an important city due to its proximity to borders with Iran and Afghanistan. Historically, however, Quetta owes much of its importance to the Bolan Pass which links it to Kandahar, Afghanistan. An ancient city, Quetta has been a place of human habitation since pre-historic times. Known as the fruit basket of Pakistan, Quetta if famous for its wild tulips, saffron fields and its glorious selection of fruits and nuts, which include; plums, peaches, pomegranates, apricots, apples, guavas (locally called zaitoon), melons, cherries, pistachios and almonds.
Quetta is 1,680 meters (5,500 feet) above sea level and enjoys a healthy climate. The temperature drops a few degrees below the freezing point in winter.
It is not known when Quetta was first inhabited, but most likely it was settled during the 6th century. The region remained part of the Sassanid Persian Empire and was later annexed by the Rashidun Caliphate during the 7th century Islamic conquest. The first detailed account of Quetta relates to its capture, in the 11th century by Mahmud of Ghazni. The Mughals ruled Quetta until 1556, when the Persians conquered the city, only to have it retaken by the Mughals in 1595. The powerful Khans of Kalat held the fort from 1730. Although occupied briefly by the British during the First Afghan War in 1839, it was not until 1876 that Quetta came under the control of the British Empire. Since Partition, the population of Quetta has increased dramatically; it has also become a popular Pakistani tourism destination.