Category Archives: Architecture

The Road to Kawkaban

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The fortified Yemeni town of Kawkaban in 1978.
Photo courtesy Daniel Martin Varisco

Reposted from Anthropology News

In the spring of 1978 my wife, Najwa Adra, and myself traveled to various locations in Yemen (the Yemen Arab Republic at the time) looking for the appropriate place to conduct our ethnographic research.  On our way to the valley where we eventually settled in, we stopped at a breathtaking mountain-top town called Kawkaban, a historic fortress town in the history of Yemen’s north.  In the past, it was virtually impregnable from the bottom of the mountain, where an old and important market town named Shibam was located.  There was only one entrance across a deep gorge and it was a defensible gate. We walked up the rugged trail to the top and spent the night in a old house turned into a simple hotel.  Touring the town, we saw the well preserved stone houses and water cisterns, as well as the ruins of what had been a thriving Jewish quarter before the emigration to Israel in the 1950s.  That night the hotel’s owner, who lived in the capital, was visiting and invited us for tea.  When we told him we were anthropologists on our way to the nearby Wadi al-Ahjur, he offered us a ride the next day to his family home there.  I have the fondest memories of this first trip to Kawkaban, although there were many more.

The fortress of Kawkaban figures prominently in the history of north Yemen, even before Islam. It was especially significant during the era of the Zaydi imams over the past millennium.  It was the stronghold of the sayyid Sharaf al-Din family, who were the Zaydi rulers during the 17th and 18th centuries.  The Ayyubid and Rasulid overlords from the 12th through the 15th centuries attacked the fortress repeatedly with rock throwers, but were seldom successful.  An accomplished Yemeni poet named Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Kawkabani (died 1601) is credited with over 116 poems and several of the old houses contain important Yemeni manuscripts. The town is also known for its musicians, including the renowned singer Muhammad al-Harithi. The musical group Thalatha Kawkabani was known throughout the Arab world.

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فنون العمارة الحجرية في يافع

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اليوم الثلاثاء تلقيت مكالمة مبشرة من د.شوقي الجرو مدير عام دار جامعة عدن للطباعة والنشر يطمني فيها بأن كتابي(فنون العمارة الحجرية في يافع) سيرى النور قريباً بعد فترة مخاض وحضانة طال أمدها، بلغت قرابة ستة عشر شهرا تقريباً، منذ ابرام العقد في 30 سبتمبر 2014، ودفعي تكاليف قيمته مقدماً بالكامل. وهي فترة قياسية لا أعتقد أن كتاباً آخر قد أمضاها متعثرا بين آلات مطابع دار جامعة عدن أو أي مطبعة أخرى، ولو عرف محررو كتاب غينيس للأرقام القياسية ذلك لأضافوه إلى قائمة الأرقام القياسية..
كان سبب تعثر تجهيز الكتاب بعد أن أوشك على بلوغ مرحلته النهائية خللاً بسيطاً في البدء في آلة التغليف، وتعذر الحصول على قطعة الغيار، كما أبلغت ، ثم جاء اجتياح الغزاة الحوثيين وقوات المخلوع لعدن، واندحارهم عنها.. فتطلب الأمر إصلاح ذلك الخلل ثم صيانة شاملة للمعدات التي توقفت بسبب الحرب، كما علمت من د.شوقي الجرو.. وكنت أيضا قد ناقشت د.حسين باسلامة القائم بأعمال رئيس الجامعة، في نهاية الاحتفال بالذكرى الأولى للشهيد د.زين محسن اليزيدي، حول أهمية توفير قطع الغيار لمطبعة الجامعة وإعادة تشغيلها، ليس فقط لتجهيز كتابي المتعثر، وإنما لتسيير عملها الذي سيكفل لها الحصول على موارد مالية.
وسأكون في انتظار مكالمة البشارة من الدكتور شوقي قريباً كما وعد بأنه كتابي سيكون في أولى اهتماماته كأقدم عمل معلق أو متعثر في المطبعة..

Courtesy of Dr. Mohammed Jarhoum

Help Preserve Yemen’s Architectural Heritage

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The initiative to represent Yemen in Venice

How it started

Back in the Netherlands – after having worked in Yemen for years – Lidwien Scheepers was looking for an opportunity to present Yemen in a positive way on the world stage as Yemen is a misrepresented country from various perspectives. She has found this opportunity in the form of the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice in 2016.

In November 2014 Lidwien Scheepers visited the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice. She noted the presence of some Arab countries and the absence of Yemen. During this visit she managed to contact the responsible person of the Visual Arts and Architecture Department of the Biennale who explained to her the procedure to follow in order to have Yemen invited as a national participant by the President of the Biennale.

Seen the rich and fascinating architectural heritage of Yemen Lidwien DSCF1397Scheepers is eager to have this beautiful country for the first time shining on this leading international platform for architecture in Venice in 2016.

The first step to be taken in order to represent Yemen in Venice was the participation request “by the competent Governmental Authority through which the Country normally performs activities of the same type”. Therefore, Yemeni supporters of the initiative approached the Yemeni Deputy Minister of Culture, H.E. Huda Ablan. She welcomed the idea to represent Yemen in the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice. Thereafter, the required correspondence with the Biennale was drafted in close cooperation with the Deputy Minister of Culture and the Undersecretary for Cultural Relations, Mr. Ayed Ali Al-Shawafy. On 9 September 2015 Yemen received the official invitation from the President of the Biennale as a national participant.

Where we stand right now

The challenge ahead is the nomination of the commissioner and the curator as well as the development of an idea/concept and a design of the Yemeni participation in collaboration with Yemenis and other experts that worked on Yemen heritage. Subsequently, a detailed proposal for the exhibition project has to be developed. It goes without saying that funds are needed for implementation.

Peggy Crawford’s Photography of Yemen

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The American photographer Peggy Crawford passed away in Santa Fe, New Mexico on April 18, 2015.  There is an exhibition of her photographic work in Yemen archived on Archnet. Below is the description provided on that site:

Peggy Crawford (1917-2015) was an American photographer, writer, and educator. Between 1985 and 2004 she made nine trips to Yemen, photographing its people, architecture, and landscapes. In 2005, she published An American in Yemen: Travel Notes of a Photographer in English and French. The Peggy Crawford collection of slides is held in the Fine Arts Library, Harvard University. This collection on Archnet highlights a selection from the complete collection held by Harvard University.

Safeguarding Yemen’s Cultural Heritage

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Here is my personal blog post on MENA Tidningen regarding the UNESCO meeting I attended a few days ago in Paris.  AIYS was well represented at the meeting.  I gave an introductory talk on Yemen’s history and culture the first day, followed by presentations on Yemen’s intangible and movable cultural heritage by AIYS associate and anthropologist Najwa Adra, ethnomusicologists Jean Lambert and Scheherazade Hassan, Anne Regourd (University of Copenhagen), Leila Aliaquil (jewelry expert), Alessandra Avanzini (University of Pisa) and St. John Simpson (British Museum).  Speaking on Yemen’s archaeology were Iris Gerlach (DAI), Alexander Sedov (National Museum of Oriental Art, Russia), Sabina Antonini (Association Monumenta Orientalia), Michel Mouton (CEFAS), Zayd Zaydoon (AFSM) and Jean-François Breton.  Yemen’s architecture and built heritage were discussed by Renzo Ravagnan and Massimo Khairallah (Instituto Veneto del Restauro), Omar Abdulaziz Hallaj (GIZ), Marylene Barret (Conservator) and Cristina Iamandi (architect and urban planner).

The meeting was opened and closed by H.E. Ambassador Ahmed Sayyad, Ambassador of Yemen to UNESCO.  It was fortunate that Mohanad Ahmed Al Syani (Chairman of GOAMM) and Nagi Saleh (Chairman of GOPHCY) were able to make the arduous journey from war-torn Yemen to Paris and brief the delegates on the current damage to Yemen’s heritage and future needs for restoration.

Heritage Destroyed

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The blood-soaked political battle to take control of Yemen goes beyond dead bodies, the wounded, the displaced and destruction of the infrastructure.  Yemen’s rich and irreplaceable Islamic heritage is also under attack.  In the Hadramawt, al-Qaeda has razed one of the many shrines, most under waqf control.  The pictures here are of the  tomb of al-Habib Hamad bin Salih bin Shaykh Abu Bakr bin Salim in the area of Sha’b al-Nur in the directorate of al-Shihr in the province of Hadramawt.  What other important cultural and religious landmarks will also be destroyed as the madness continues?

My thanks to Dr. Mohamed Jarhoum for identifying the shrine, the photos of which were posted on the Internet.

Yemen Antiquities Bombed

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Smoke rises from al-Qahira castle, an ancient fortress that was recently taken over by Shiite rebels, as another building on the Saber mountain, in the background, explodes after Saudi-led airstrikes in Taiz city, Yemen, on May 21.  (Abdulnasser Alseddik/AP)

The world may be ignoring the destruction of cultural treasures in Yemen

June 5, Washington Post

In Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State’s wanton vandalizing and looting of antiquities has rightfully led to horror around the world. But those sites may not be the only cultural sites in the Middle East facing destruction.

In Yemen, where Houthi rebels are fighting pro-government forces and a Saudi-led coalition, there have been numerous reports of irreplaceable sites being damaged by violence, too, even if they have failed to spark the same outrage.

On Thursday, for example, the Yemen Post tweeted images of the centuries-old al-Qahira castle apparently being hit by an airstrike. The castle was “destroyed,” the local outlet stated.

It is unclear whether the castle has actually been destroyed or what the level of destruction at the site amounts to. The photographs shared by the Yemen Post appear to date back to May.

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