Yemen, its historical sites, and war; Part 3.

Between 12th Century BCE and 6th Century BC Yemen was one of the leading dynasties in the world, it was known as ‘Arabia Felix’ or Happy Arabia. The dynasties included Ma’in, Qataban, Hadramaut, Aswan, Saba and Himyar.  The Himyarite kingdom was an important one for Yemen, because it located its capital in Sanaa, the same location as today’s capital city.  The remains of the Ghamdan Palace where the rulers lived are in the Old City in Sanaa, and that too was destroyed in an earlier war.  The Himyarite period was known to the Romans, the Greeks, and the Egyptians as the Homerite Kingdom, and it spanned from 110BC to 520h (1126).   There were many cities in Yemen at that time with over 5,000 inhabitants, which was large for that period of history.  Because of its importance to Yemen, a museum collected the artefacts which were used by scholars and researchers; they numbered over 10,000 artefacts. This museum and its contents have now been erased, no longer available for scholars researching ancient world history.

dhamar museum
Dhamar museum, which contained 10,000 artefacts from the Himyarite period.
museum after bombing raid
The remains of the Dhamar museum today

The Regional Museum was the main museum of the Dhamar governorate. It was built at Hirran, north of Dhamar city, in 2002. It had several exhibition halls, a lecture hall, a computer laboratory and storerooms. Its pre-Islamic collection comprised over hundred inscriptions of various provenance and period, whereas the section dedicated to the Islamic archaeology contains some decorated artefacts bearing Arabic inscriptions, in addition to jewels and other handmade products of traditional handicrafts in Dhamar. The most important object is the wooden minbar (pulpit) from the Great Mosque of Dhamar city, which was dated to the fourth century Hegira (11th Century). This was bombed on 18th June 2015.  I have also heard that another museum has been bombed in Zinjibar, Abyan province, but I cannot find confirmation.

Another UNESCO site that has been damaged is the Al Ashrafiyya Mosque in Taiz.

The Al Ashrafiyya after its recent restoration
The Al Ashrafiyya after its recent restoration

One of the beautiful minarets of al-Ashrafiyya Mosque has been hit by tank shelling. It tooks more than 10 years to the Yemeni-Italian restoration team to complete the intervention and restore the original beauty of this holy place and they were ready to begin with the project for the restoration of nearby Al-Muzaffar complex, which now is unlikely to proceed.  It was damaged on 18th June 2015.

The damage to the minaret
The damage to the minaret

The south west corner of Yemen is indeed suffering considerable damage as several militias are fighting and it is also subjected to overhead bombing by the Saudi coalition.  The city of Lahj has been destroyed, mostly by militia activity.

(photos of Lahj from Fatema need downloading from phone and inserting.

Parts of Aden have suffered extensive damage.  The oldest district, Crater, is indeed built in the crater of an extinct volcano. Most of the buildings are relatively recent, but there was a pretty mosque that was used to illustrate stamps during the British occupation of Aden, called the Aidrus mosque.

aidrus mosque
Stamp depicting Aidrus Mosque

This mosque is believed to date from the end of the 15th Century. It was damaged during the 1994 civil war, when old Qu’rans were burned by Yemeni troops from the north, and it has been destroyed in May this year when Houthi militias burned down many of the buildings in Crater, including the Aidrus Mosque. I have no photographs of the mosque post damage  but this is a view of Crater at the time of the arson attack, which does not give me confidence that it has survived.

crater 006
Crater after arson attack by Houthi militias

Another building in Aden has suffered damage from bombs, this is an old Ottoman fort overlooking the harbour known as Seera Castle. This grand citadel was in excellent condition when I visited it in 2011, and commands extensive views of the sea and harbour. I understand it suffered extensive damage on 22nd June, although I have no photographs of the damage.

seera castle7
Seera Castle, Aden, now damaged by bombs.

I also understand that the port area has suffered considerable damage, but have no other details. The port has the remains of grand and imposing buildings erected during the British occupation of Aden, which were badly in need of loving care but not damaged or altered in any way, and after restoration could have been made the area into an attractive area for visitors. Also near the port was the attractive guesthouse of the Sultan of Lahj, or the Sultan of Abdali, who ruled Yemen in the Ottoman period and remained on good terms with the British during their occupation. Indeed, despite the long and bitter campaign to make the British forces leave, Adenis now remember the British occupation in positive terms and feel a strong allegiance with British people. The statue of Queen Victoria remained in place, and a small church damaged once by Al Qaeda and restored, were always treated with respect by Aden people.  I fear for these buildings that reveal a significant part of Aden’s 19th and 20th century history will be lost, and with it, the potential for developing tourism in this part of Yemen.

What makes me feel so sad is that everyone has lost, and no-one has gained.  This is a man made war that cannot be won by military means. In the end, Yemeni and Saudi people will have to sit down with people they hate and make painful compromises. They could have done this without the loss of life, the suffering, and the loss of Yemeni, and world, architectural and historical heritage.

One thought on “Yemen, its historical sites, and war; Part 3.

  1. These activities are so sad. Not only because of the culture and collection items we lose, but because of the impact these activities have on the people who live around those areas.

    Like

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