Aligarh was known by the earlier name of Kol or Koil before the 18th century. The name Kol covered not only the city but the entire district, though its geographical limits kept changing from time to time. The origin of the name is obscure. In some ancient texts, Kol has been referred to in the sense of a tribe or caste, name of a place or mountain and name of a sage or demon. From the study of the place-names of the district, it appears that the district was once fairly well covered by forest, thickets and groves. The early history of the district, through the 12th century AD is obscure. According to Edwin T. Atkinson, the name Kol was given to the city by Balarama, who slew here the great Asura (demon) Kol and with the assistance of the Ahirs subdued this part of the Doab. In another account, Atkinson points out a “legend” that Kol was founded by the Dor tribe of Rajputs in 372 AD. This could be further confirmed by an old fort, the Dor fortress, now in ruins, which lies at the city’s centre.
Some time before the Muslim invasion, Kol was held by the Dor Rajputs and in the time of Mahmud of Ghazni the chief of the Dors was Hardatta of Baran. There is reason to believe that Kol was once the seat of a Buddhist community as statues of Buddha and other Buddhist remains have been found in excavations made in the eminence on which the citadel of Koil stood. It also had Hindu remains indicating that in all probability the citadel contained in succession a Buddhist and a Hindu temple.
In 1194 AD, Qutb-ud-din Aybak marched from Delhi to Koil which was “one of the most celebrated fortresses of Hind”. Qutb-ud-din Aybak appointed Hisam-ud-din Ulbak as the first Muslim governor of Koil. Koil is also mentioned in Ibn Battuta’s Rihla, when Ibn Battuta along with 15 ambassadors representing Ukhaantu Khan, the Mongol Emperor of the Yuan dynasty in China, traveled to Koil city en route to the coast at Cambay (in Gujarat) in 1341. According to Ibn Battuta, it would appear that the district was then in a very disturbed state since the escort of the Emperor’s embassy had to assist in relieving Jalali from an attacking body of Hindus and lost one of their officers in the fight. Ibn Batuta calls Koil “a fine town surrounded by mango groves”. From these same groves the environs of Koil would appear to have acquired the name of Sabzabad or “the green country”.
In the reign of Akbar, Koil was made a Sirkar and included the dasturs of Marahra, Kol ba Haveli, Thana Farida and Akbarabad Both Akbarand Jahangir visited Kol on hunting expeditions. Jahangir clearly mentions the forest of Kol, where he killed wolves.
During the time of Ibrahim Lodhi, Muhammad, son of Umar was the governor of Kol, built a fort at Kol and named the city after his own name as Muhammadgarh in 1524-25; and Sabit Khan who was the governor of this region during the time of Farrukh Siyar and Muhammad Shah, rebuilt the old Lodi fort and named the town after his own name Sabitgarh. The ruler of Koil was Bargujar King Rao Bahadur Singh whose ancestors ruled it from AD 1184 after the marriage of Raja of Koil Ajit Singh’s daughter to Raja Pratp Singh Bargujar. In early 1753, the Bargujar Chief rose against the destruction of Hindu temples. The Jat ruler Surajmal in 1753, with patronage from Jai Singh of Jaipur and the Muslim army occupied the fort of Koil, the Bargujar Raja Bahadur Singh continued the battle from another fort under them and died fighting in what is known as the “Battle of Ghasera”. It was re-named Ramgarh and finally, when a Shia commander, Najaf Khan, captured Kol, he gave it its present name of Aligarh. Aligarh Fort (also called Aligarh Qila), as it stands today, was built by French engineers under the control of French officers Benoît de Boigne and Perron.
Establishment of Aligarh Muslim University (1875):- In 1875, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan founded the Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College in Aligarh and patterned the college after Oxford and Cambridge universities that he had visited on a trip to England. This later became Aligarh Muslim University in 1920.