After over 20 years of restorationPresident inaugurates historic landmark of al-Ameriyah [Archives:2005/877/Culture]

September 15 2005

President Saleh inaugurated on Sunday September 11, 2005, the great historic school of al-Ameriah in the city of Radda', Baidha province, amidst a joyful atmosphere at the long waited inaugural. The event was slated for last July but postponed to September to coincide with the celebration of Yemeni Revolution anniversary.

Al-Ameriyah is a finely chiseled architectural piece that was built at the time of Sultan Amer bin Abdul-Wahab bin Dawood bin Taher at the beginning of the 16th Century. Yemeni historians described it as a “great school.” It is a three-storeyed building, rectangular in shape. It is 40 meters long and 23 meters in width. The first floor is built of stone while the upper two are made of baked-clay bricks. Erected in the center of the city, the white building with its distinctive construction magnificently contrasts with the simple neighborhood where other buildings pale into insignificance besides its majesty.

It is surmounted by six domes and has arched gates on different sides and wooden windows. The domes are coated with plaster-like material and are colorfully embroidered from within.

Islamic monument:

Al-Ameriyah is a historic school that has a self-contained mosque and many halls. It also contains accommodation rooms for students who were living and studying in al- Ameriyah. There are also lecture halls.

Al-Ameriyah is very distinguished by the elaborate and fine decorations in the form of plants and Quranic verses which have been dexterously and artfully depicted. The maintenance of such decorations represented the crux of the restoration effort because they are old and need much care when handling them. Work on them has not finished yet.

Longtime restoration:

In the book of Salma al-Radhi on Ameriyah, published in English, she mentions that the rehabilitation started in 1982 when its insides and vicinity were cleaned as there was midden of garbage as high as three meters in some places. The next year, the so-called Dhamar Quake happened. Neighboring buildings were affected by it except for al-Ameriyah which withstood and survived the fatal destructive earthquake. It did not even crack.

Dr. Yosuf Abdullah still remembers when he visited Ameriyah for the first time.

In 1972. “It had nothing remarkable except for the prayer place and the remainder of the its wall beauty as well as the color of its decorations.”

A visitor to al-Ameriyah in its current state will be surprised by the admirable local and international efforts which saved a very valuable Islamic monument.

Al-Ameriyah is a unique archeological building exhibiting superb architecture and exquisite decorative elements. It juxtaposes the common and exotic. “It is a priceless pearl that radiates luminousness and greatness” as Dr. Yosuf describes it.

More maintenance required:

Although the bulk of the mission has been accomplished, the restoration is still going on because some aspects of the School need to be rehabilitated. They include the restoration of internal bathrooms with decorations inside them, maintenance of moats, completing the woodwork of the western gate, documenting the decorations engraved on domes in the prayer place and cleaning the doors.

Another important thing is training staff to take care of this historic site in the future and organizing tourist trips to it.

Commendable efforts of Dr. al-Radhi:

The founding stone of Ameriayh was laid under the name of Sultan in August 1504. Dr. Salma al-Radhi who launched and implemented the project suggests that the construction of al-Ameriyah took five years.

“It took 23 years from us to reconstruct it into its previous state,” she told an Irish Times reporter in July.

Salma al-Radhi is an Iraqi archeologist who obtained her PhD from the universities of Columbia and Amesterdam. She came to Ameriyah 25 years ago when she was involved in a Dutch technical assistance program to help establish a national museum in Sana'a. she could convince the Dutchmen she was working with to lay down the agricultural and civic infrastructure of Rada' through conserving the most important hisotirc landmark in it, Al-Ameriyah.

At that time, al-Ameriyah was in a poor state and the Yemeni government was seeking foreign finance and technical assistance to save it. The UNESCO experts at the time estimated the restoration cost at 5 million USD. That was dismissed as unaffordable by the Yemeni government.

The government, represented by Dr. Abdul-Karim al-Eryani, insisted on using the Yemeni style in restoration, that is, using domestic laborers and materials.

Restoration kicked off in November 1982 when al-Ameriyah was cleared of garbage and waste. In March 1983, bricklayer Izzi Mohammed, a man in his sixties, started propping the outside foundations and walls that had fallen or were about to fall while his cousin was doing his work inside.

Dr. Salma al-Radi was representing the Dutch side and Yahya al-Nusairi represented the Yemeni side. They started thinking how to restore the problem of qadhadh, which is a white-cement like material that Yemeni bricklayers were using in construction. It was used to cover old buildings, binding the structure, forming water-resistant layer and giving the vivid white color to the buildings. Qadhadh dates as back as the time of the construction of Marib Dam. The qadhadh making spread from Yemen to the Roman Empire and India.

By the time of restoring al-Ameriyah, the formula of making qadhadh had been forgotten. But eventually, the craftsmen involved in the project could prepare it and use it for refurbishing al-Ameriyah.

“As qadhadh has withstood five centuries, we hope the qadhadh we have prepared will last for another five centuries,” She told the Irish Times reporter. “The workers who built al-Ameriyah put in all their craftsmanship. It is a testimony of their art.”

Al-Ameriyah was the last achievement of the Tahiri Dynasty, a state that enforced law, paved roads, expanded trade and improved agriculture.

The funding of the School came from the Yemeni and Dutch governments. The Kingdom of Netherlands and Italy agreed to restore some 600 square meters of beautiful colorful decoration-covered area while The Sana'a-based American Institute for Yemeni Studies provided administrative assistance.

The overall cost of the project is estimated at 3.5 million USD and now al-Ameriyah has been nominated as a candidate for the honorary award of Agha Khan, 2007.

After salvaging al-Ameriyah, Dr. Salma al-Radhi along with her team are planning to restore a Yemeni mosque.