Kawkaban: a city of silver and stone [Archives:2008/1200/Last Page]

October 20 2008
A huge wall encloses the ancient city of Kawkaban from one side, while natural barriers protect it from the other.
A huge wall encloses the ancient city of Kawkaban from one side, while natural barriers protect it from the other.
By: Saddam Al-Ashmouri
For the Yemen Times

Perched on top of a mountain, the ancient city of Kawkaban is one of the most outstanding historical sites and most unassailable fortresses in Yemen.

The city, founded on Al-Dhil'a Mountain 45 kilometers to the North West of Sana'a, was the metropolis of the religious intellectual Sharaf Al-Din during the fifteenth century. Kawkaban's history dates back over ten centuries and it was the capital of many Yemeni kingdoms in the past. In every corner, the city retains tell-tale signs of its great history.

As in the case of many of Yemen's ancient cities, a huge wall encloses the ancient city of Kawkaban from one side, while natural barriers protect it from the other. Kawkaban has the appearance of a house with only one door, and the sole gate through which one can enter the city, Bab Al-Hadid, is part of the Al-Qashlah castle which was built during the ottoman rule in Yemen at the end of the 19th century.

According to Abdullah Ali Al-Tawili, a prominent local in Kawkaban, the city's original architecture has been preserves throughout the years and acts as witness of Yemen's great historical heritage. The Al-Mansoor Mosque, built by Imam Abdullah Bin Hamza approximately ten centuries ago, and the Kawkaban fortress are two of the city's most famous historical sites which overlook the city's mountain.

The Kawkaban fortress has been mentioned in the books of several Arab historians such as Abi Al-Hassan Al-Hamadani and Yaqut Al-Humawi who said the fortress was called Kawkaban because “its palace was built of silver and stones”. The interior of the palace was decorated with corundum and jewels and, at night, the palace resembled planets, hence the name Kawkaban.

The residents of the Kawkaban take pride in the fact that their city was a center for Yemeni resistance against the Ottoman occupation. The city's great architecture was an ideal structure of defense system in the Yemenis' war against occupation.

In the castle, a huge wooden gate covered with copper, shelters for archers and an underground tunnel from the castle to the center of the city ensured the city's defense.

The castles and fortresses of the city reflect its military importance since the Hematite age. The city was used as a fortress and a store for crops, and both the Ayyobite and the A'amiria kingdoms used the city as a fortress before the Ottomans invaded Yemen and seized the city.

The city was an important center for poetry, religion, arts and literature in the past and, nowadays, many contemporary religious scholars renowned for their knowledge, tolerance and openness are originally from Kawkaban.

Shibam Kawkaban

Although the City of Shibam Kawkaban belongs in its name to Kawkaban, it is connected with Kawkaban City only through a series of stony stepladders.

Originally called Haiss, the city then came to be known as Shibam after Shibam Ibn Abdullah Ibn Hishm Bin Hashed, a famous Yemeni religious intellectual who once lived in the city.

According to historians, Shibam Kawkaban dates back to the seventh century BC. Its name was mentioned in victory carvings by Yemeni king Karb Eel Watar Bin Dhamar Ali according to which Shibam Kawkaban was part of the Nishin Kingdom ruled by the Sabaites.

Features of past Yemeni civilization can be observed in the city's mountain caves, the old dams and terraces surrounding the city.

The city's temple, on top of the Al-Lou Mountain, is considered to be one of its most important landmarks. Recently-discovered carvings on the walls of modern buildings have indicated that there were originally two temples on top of the mountain, named after the ancient goddesses Athter and Al-Muqah. Remnants of footpaths indicate that there was a stone road linking the city with the two temples, now called Aqabat Kawkaban.

The graveyards in Shibam Kawkaban, still visible today, were artistically carved into the rock face with a huge stone gate leading to rooms for the belongings of the dead.

The wall of Shibam Kawkaban dates back to the ninth century AD. Historian Qutb Al-Deen Al-Nahrawani described this wall as \”a fence of mud