Ibb: The Old City in The Lap of The Green Province [Archives:2001/34/Culture]

August 20 2001

The old city of Ibb is considered one of the most ancient cities in Yemen. It occupies a very important strategic location compared to the other cities of the Republic and was known as al-Thagah city. The remains of archaeological landmarks are still present and historical sources indicate that the old part of Ibb city belongs to the Islamic era. During ancient periods, Ibb was a big trade center. There is also a historical mosque which is dating back from the ancient period of the Caliph, Omar bin al-Khatab.
The city’s glory coincided with the old period of al-Solayh estate in Jibla city. The historical landmarks of both cities are still evident and, as mentioned before, Ibb is supposed to be one of the most ancient cities in Yemen as are old Sana’a and Shibam. If we look at the historical and archaeological landmarks of Ibb cities, we are able to understand the city’s real history and traditions.
The old city is surrounded by a long wall and its access is gained by five gates: al-Nasier, Sonbal, al-Kabeer, Rayha, and al-Rakizah. The buildings of the city were made of strong volcanic rocks as limestone had not been used yet in these constructions. They all share a same style called ‘Kamariah’ but with some variations. The city include several historical houses such as al-Thagah, al-Hamam, al-Qalam, al-Sabse, Safier, al-Hakeem, Aqeel, al-Shoja’a and Dolmah house.
The beauty of the city attracts visitors, arises their curiosity, and reminds them of memories of a glorious heritage. One who walked through its pastures, saw waterfalls, fountains and wandered about the old fascinating views and that fragrant perfume coming from the gardens as well. But, everything is changing, as people are not paying attention anymore to those historical landmarks. However, the dreamy city, still preserves its beautiful face through numerous archaeological sites.
As I mentioned above, the old city attracts many visitors and researchers because of its beauty. Yemen Times journalist, Mr. Ibrahim Addahan, conducted an interview with a French researcher and asked him the following questions.
Q: Could you please introduce yourself to us?
A: Well, I am Didier Granger, 28 years old, and I am single. I am a French student in the Architecture Department at School of La Villette in Paris. I am here for my certificate of architecture ” 6th year”.
Q: Would you please highlight the purpose of your visit?
A: As a matter of fact, I came to Ibb in order to collect information about the old city. My research is entitled ” The Relationship Between Organization of Habitation and Social Activities of Ibb”. It consist of three parts:
1.History of Ibb, the influence of different civilizations such as al-Hymyarate, al-Solayheen, Turkish, India, and so on.
2.Evaluation of Housing and how people adapted their houses to the modern life and to the new housing style.
3.Evaluation of the social activities.
At the conclusion of my research, I make some propositions to resolve some architectural and social problems in the old city and came up with the following:
There has been an augmentation of population density in Ibb while the sanitary system has not followed. There are also problems in urban relations between old and new quarters. It would be important to join the activities of the old Suk ‘market’ with the activities of the new one. My project seeks, therefore, to solve these problems. In addition, the purpose of this research is to draw attentio of the government on reviving the city’s cultural and historical traditions and focusing on the cultural heritage.
Q: Why did you choose Ibb from all the Yemeni governorates?
A: I chose Ibb because it is beautiful region and people have the reputation of being very nice and of showing hospitality. However, Ibb has a big old center and it is still well preserved with a special architecture that is only found in mountains places. Furthermore I chose Ibb because there no research or study can be found in English or French about the old city of Ibb.
Q: What are the major things that attract you in Ibb?
A: The things that attract me in Ibb are the kindness of the people and the simplicity of their style of living. Besides, the green colour which covers the mountains brought the most my attention.
Q: What are the outcomes of your visit?
A: During my five-month stay in Yemen, I have learnt a lot. For instance, I studied the Arabic Language, which helped me to find a job in rehabilitation of ancient buildings in the country. In other words, it is important because it helps me to understand another culture as well as confront my own culture and my knowledge with an Arabic culture. Besides that, I learnt how practically to build something.
Q: What are the obstacles you faced through your research?
A: At the beginning of my research, my level of Arabic language was not insufficient to collect the information I needed without any difficulty. In the same time, it was also difficult for me to explain the purpose of my research, as people did not understand why I was so interested by their houses or their jobs. In addition, I found some difficulties to get some information about the old city such as its history, its plants, some photographs, and exact statistics. Frankly speaking, my research was a success thanks to the friends I met at the beginning and who made my task easier.
Q: Have you noticed that there many different decorations going back to ancient ages?
A: Of course, I found some decorations on the old houses’ facades which belong to ancient ages. These decorations look alike the first letter of the Hymyarate alphabet and forms of some arches seem to have an Indian influence.
Q: Do you think that there are similarities between Yemeni civilization and French civilization?
A: Architecture in Ibb is completely different with all kinds of architecture in France. French people used also stones or bricks, but the work of stone and brick are different. You can find similarities in some constructions in the south of Spain as the roofs, for example, are flat. They mix wood-beam and stone. In fact, the architecture of Ibb is unique. You can not find any place similar to Ibb in the world. It is famous in France because of that.
Q: Being your second visit, how did you find Yemeni people?
A: Actually, I am not exaggerating if I say that the Yemeni people are helpful, friendly and showing high hospitality. I find very easy to make contact with people who help me in everything. Therefore, I love Yemeni people, as well as their music, their conversations and their culture.
Q: Through your visit and your research about the old city, do you think that Ibb city deserve the same concern given to Sana’a city?
A: The old city of Ibb is considered as a treasure. It is very important for people to preserve the story and the birth of their town because it is essential for the world’s culture. If people maintain their constructions, they will remain intact for a long time. As far as I know, the living conditions in the old houses is better than living in the new buildings which are humid, cold, and hot in the same time.
Q: Any thing you want to say further?
A:To conclude, I would like to thank the Yemen Times for giving me this chance to tell my opinion about the old city of Ibb and I also thank Mr.Safwan al-Showiter, Laurent Lavall, Laura Mistral and my sponsors (France represented in Architecture & Development and Yemen represented in CFEY) for their help and support to achieve my task.