City of Zabeed: Shattered heritage and the needs for renewal [Archives:2002/07/Reportage]

February 11 2002

By Abduh Darweesh Zabeed
Tourists and native Yemeni alike would enjoy taking a step back in time by visiting Zabeed’s Castle. During a recent trip I made to this museum of antiquities, I learned many interesting things about the proud heritage of Zabeed, and how this reflects the contribution that Yemen has historically made to Arabian culture.
Naming Zabeed
The city of Zabeed is located in an average height between two valleys: Zabeed Valley from the south and Roba Valley from the north. It is 100 km south of Hodeidah City.
In his book Tihama though History, Abdurahman Al-Hadhrami said that the city was called Zabeed because it lies in the middle of a valley named Zabeed. It was also said that the name was applied to a tribe dwelling in this part of the valley.
It is told of Mohammed Bin Abdullah, that when he left Mecca for Yemen, he used to take sand with his hand and smell it every time he visited a new place. When he came across the valley Zabeed, he took some of its sand, smelled it, and said to his followers that they should reside in this spot, and that is was an endowed land.
Others said that a woman lived in a valley of Zabeed called Zabeeda.
In his book, Abdurahman Al-Hadhrami notes that a Canadian expedition in Zabeed worked from 1982 and 1984. The expedition explored some valuable antiquities of the city and found clear evidence that it originally consisted of scattered villages of the Al- Ashaera tribe.
The Valley of Zabeed was one of the fertile valleys in Zabeed. This helped Ibn Ziad to found his city near Al-Ashaera Mosque in 819.
In addition, a number of ancient black potteries was discovered by the Canadian expedition in scattered parts, particularly in the north of the city, which dates back to the third century of Hijra. This is before the arrival of Ibn Ziad.
Some of these antiquities belong to the reign of the Himarids and some of these to the Stone Age.
Historical evidences also indicate that the city was comprised of scattered villages, full of green trees in an area called Al-Khaseeb, an area settled by the Al- Ashaera tribe before and after the Islamic period.
The city became a base for the consequent Yemeni states, which lasted for 841 years. Peoples included the Ziyadids, Najahids, Tahirids, Sulaymanids, Rasulids, Mahdids, and Ayyubids.
During its long history. Zabeed was a famous city, as it was considered to be one of the first major centers of learning in the world. Scholars visited the city from different parts of the world and it became a center of enlightenment and learning.
Bin Al-Rabee rightly described the Zabeed as “the city of the learning, scholars, jurisprudence, Islam, goodness, and purity”. This was reflected on all the aspects of civilized renaissance in the field of arts, architecture manufacturing, trade, agriculture and the building invincible forts.
The city has some of its wonderful architecture preserved. Houses have beautiful decorations on their doors, while minarets, prayer niches, ceilings, and historical palaces are also a clear indication of Zabeed’s great history.
In addition to the castle, it has historical palaces such as the Great Al-Naser House. Some towers narrate stories of the consequent states that ruled Yemen in different eras.
The city was also larger in the past. Its houses were built with mud, plaster and bricks. It was characterized by the narrow lanes and quarters, which reminds visitors of the great history of the Yemeni ancestors.
One of the monuments of Zabeed is the Old Zabeed Market which is open every Sunday.
Zabeed was famous for handicraft industries such as, weaving, fiber-forming, spinning, sugar making, soap, silver making, and mats. The city is also famous for its folkloric heritage such as, dances and songs.
Zabeed’s walls and gates
The ancient city was enclosed with a wall, which, in part, is still existing today. It has four main gates, which were locked in time of danger. The walls of the city were rebuilt in different eras through the history of the city.
The first man who built walls around Zabeed was Alhussein Bin Salama. Then, they were rebuilt by Najahids and after him, the city enclosure was rebuilt by the Taghjateen Bin Ayoob. He established four gates. Among these are the following two gates:
The first was known as Ghalafeka Gate, which was located in the east of the city. The second gate was known as Seham Gate, which is the most important one and located in the north.
After 26 September Revolution the city was exposed to several attacks which led to the damage of the walls, however, the four main gates of the city are still existing till today. These gates need only repair and renewal.
The main thing that should be taken into consideration is the main wall itself, which is about to deteriorate. It needs an immediate repair and recondition.
Some other historical monuments in the area also need repair. and explorations need to be conducted to discover the remains of the wall so it can be rebuilt properly.
Zabeed Today
For those who value the proud history of Zabeed City and what it means for Yemen, it is sad to see its deteriorating conditions these days. It has the potential to be a fine tourist attraction, yet now, in its present state, there is little that interests the sightseer.
This was verified when during his visit to Yemen, Kunishero Matsura, chairman of UNISCO, said that the city is being threatened with drastic deterioration.
Zabeed is one of the three Yemeni cities which are designated by the UN as international heritage sites. But its historic features such as its walls are in dire need of rebuilding.
One can only hope that somehow the resources will be found to ensure this vital part world history and Yemeni culture is not lost.