Al-Qarrah Castle [Archives:1998/04/Last Page]
This is the last part of the Ramadhan series on famous historical Yemeni castles.
Al-Qarrah castle is one of the most famous historical sites in Yemen. It withstood the passage of time – more than 1,200 years – due to its unique natural features. Its fortifications, living quarters and cisterns were all built on the top of a white limestone mass which seemed to be carefully put on the edge of the high black-stone mountain, making it all the more impregnable. The castle’s only entrance is its main gate which was carved on the white limestones, the main material used in constructing the fortresses and the living quarters of the castle.
It is 5 to 10 floors high on a curved slope which added to its invincibility. The castle is like a small village located upon a single rocky block on the peak of the mountain. Due to that, no army was able to break into it. As a result of its distinguished position, Al-Qarrah remained a safe shelter throughout history when Yemen was a country of continuous wars, especially the area of Yafi’ itself.
Alas, it was not all military fortification and armament. Al-Qarrah was mostly surrounded by fig trees that bear their delicious fruits during the spring. In the past, there was no water supply for the castle’s inhabitants but from the cisterns located on the roof of the castle, which were used to store water throughout the year. In addition to these cisterns, there is also a deep cave which was used to store provisions, making the castle’s inhabitants able to carry on living during long sieges. The inner walls of these cisterns are covered with a water-proof, resistant cement-like material that has survived to this time, reflecting the very advanced Yemeni construction technique of that age. Standing in the castle at 1800m above sea level, one can clearly see most of the very steep mountain chain which forms what was known as Yafi’ Bani Qassed. An observer can also see the fantastic scenery of Aden which seems to be like a chain of shining pearls at night 120 miles away. Al-Qarrah was the capital of Yafi’ and later the capital of Yafi’ Bani Qassed. At various times during the year, it used to become a gathering place for tribes to hold pageants and various tribal celebrations. However, at other times it was the scene for senseless tribal wars and conflicts. Thus, once it was a center for arts and another time, a horrifying prison which witnessed only one escape incident. Up until the 1950s, Al-Qarrah remained the capital of the Bani Yafi’ sultanate, which later moved to coastal Ja’ar. It was the home of the Al-Afeef sultans who were mentioned in The History of Yemen by Husamuldeen Abu Taleb more than 300 years ago. Three decades ago, all the castle’s historical grandeur was wiped out. That was the time when all its historical documents and manuscripts were taken by force and burned. Nothing is left but its neglected fortifications and empty cisterns. No specific date or era is known for Al-Qarrah’s construction. It is for the most part, connected to the Sultans of Al-Yafi’. Some historians, though, date its foundation back to Al-Sa’ad dynasty or to the to the first Ottoman Sultanate which ruled Yemen that time. But Al-Qarrah, as a natural fortress, seems to be much older than that. There is no doubt that people liked to inhabit it from the beginning and still enjoy coming to it to this day. One who visits it will surely feel its greatness and adore its distinguished nature and unique atmosphere. A visitor will believe that this castle is not supposed to be a merely historical memory which takes people back to those early times of our history. On the contrary, it should be restored and then prepared to be a tourist attraction in the future.
Mundaee Dayan A Yemeni writer & Journalist