Many are hundreds of years oldThe glory of Yemen mosques [Archives:2004/786/Culture]

November 1 2004

Ismail Al-Ghabiri
The Al-Rawdhah Grand Mosque was built by Ahmed bin Imam Al-Qassem bin Mohammed who lived from 1007-1066 Hejri. He was known as Abu Taleb from whom descend the clan of Abu Taleb now dwelling in Al-Rawdhah.
The mosque is located in the center of the town. Work started on it in 1044 Hejri and was finished in 1049.
Mosque planning: The mosque forms a rectangle extending from the south to the north. It has three doors in its western wall, three in the southern, and one in the eastern. A yard lies to the south adjacent to the bathrooms. In the southern corner does the minaret stand beside which there are two tomb-enshrining halls.
The mosque building contains four wings and a prayer yard in the center accessible from different directions. The southern yard has no doors, however.
The northern wing (the kibla wing-prayer house):
This wing is rectangular in shape. It contains columns connected by arches. The columns are cylindrical and multifaceted. Some of them have lotus-shaped crowns and others are multifaceted. In the middle of the kibla wall, there is the imam mihrab, and a pointed arch overhead supported by two decorated columns. Each of them has a crown. The arches have repeated hexagonal patterns on them. The lower parts of the mihrab threshold are covered with floral shapes.
The kibla wing has three doors opening into the prayer yard, and Ottoman style arches stretch over the doors.
The wings:
The eastern wing contains a row of seven columns carrying pointed arches that meet vertically with the kibla wall. On the eastern side of the wall, a door leads out of the mosque and another into the library. A southern door leads into the prayer yard.
The western wing resembles the eastern wing. However, its western side has several doors leading out of the mosque as well as four windows.
The southern wing consists of eight columns carrying pointed arches that go in parallel to the kibla wall. There are three doors in its southern wall leading into the eastern wing and two others into the western wing. Ion the middle of the southern wing, there is a decorated mihrab. The wing's southern wall opens three doors onto the yard.
The minaret is located in the southwestern corner. It collapsed sixty years ago and was rebuilt in 1343 Hejri. The minaret has a large square stone base. There is a door leading up the minaret. The minaret is mainly built of baked bricks decorated with a multitude of floral patterns.
Current condition:
Al-Rawdhah is a small town and enjoys many tourist potentials. It is surrounded by gardens and vine farms. It features two distinctive types of Yemeni architecture:
The first one is consisted in buildings, forts and walls which are made up of clay mixed with hay. The second covers palaces, and buildings dating back to early 20th century. They are made up of well-shaped stones.
However, the most important landmark of Al-Rawdhah is the Grand Mosque which is still in a good condition.
Al-Abbas Mosque
Located in Asnaf, Khawlan district, it is 20 kilometers to the southerast of Sana'a, exactly two kilometers to the south of Asnaf village.
The mosque dates back to the 6th Hejri century. Being also a shrine, the mosque is named after an Abbas whose identity could not be detected in books of history and biographies.
His name is also not written in the inscriptions on the mosque's interior. the inscription tells us that the mosque was ordered to be built by Sultan Mosa bin Mohammed Al-Ati who himself is not mentioned in history books.
The inscription tells us also that the roof of the mosque was finished in 519 Hejri, that is, under the reign of the Sulaihi State, namely under Queen Arwa bint Ahmed. At that time, many powers were sharing the rule of Yemen.
Therefore, Dr. Ali Saif speculates that Sultan Mosa could not proclaim himself a king, the fact which prevented his name from being recorded in books. Mosa might have also been just a sheikh in the area who called himself Sultan.
The mosque was dedicated to the sheikh Abbas who was buried inside. As we said, no more information is known about Abbas, yet locals retell a mythical story of the building of the mosque.
The story says: “There was a man named Abbas. He traveled to Makka for pilgrimage where he found a purse full of gold coins. He searched for its owner for a whole year but in vain.
He traveled to Makka three times to search for the man. In the fourth time, he found him. He was an Indian, but Abbas had spent part of the money. The Indian man wanted to check the integrity of Abbas. He asked him to pull out a tooth of his in compensation for the spent money. Abbas did that.
The Indian put the tooth in the purse, and, before he left, gave Abbas the following advice: Don't hasten, don't be lazy, don't be stingy.
Then Abbas wanted to return to Yemen. He embarked onboard a ship which was drifted to India. He got off and was entertained as a guest by a beautiful young Indian woman. She was searching for an honest man to marry him, following her father's advice.
She admired Abbas and wanted also to check his honesty. She produced a purse the same as the Indian's. he related the story of to the girl. She told him that he was the one her father had recommended her to marry. Then, they married and returned to Yemen.
On their way, the group of travelers stopped, but he remembered the man's advice: “Don't be lazy.” He with his wife went on and they encountered highwaymen. He remembered the man's advice: “Don't be stingy.” So, he gave them the money they wanted. Arriving in the village, he found that his first wife was sleeping beside a person. He could not recognize that it was his son. He intended to kill her, but again he remembered the man's advice: “Don't hasten.”
Abbas built the mosque with the money he got from his Indian wife and devoted himself to worshipping God. Many people visited him, seeking knowledge.
Description of the mosque:
It is rectangular in shape (7025 meters long and 6030 meters wide). It has two entrances in the western and southern walls. Each entrance is rectangular in shape and has a stone bridge over it. Small pointed arches are seen above the entrances. In the middle of the arch there are windows with decorations around. Two steps lead up to the wooden-door entrance of the mosque. There are four windows in the eastern wall to ventilate the mosque and allow sunshine in.
The stones of the mosque had been used in building a pre-Islamic temple. This is evident by the inscriptions on the stones, which reveal that the ancient building was a temple for one of the Yemeni deities. The lower portion of the mosque is built with huge finely-chiseled stone blocks. A mixture of plaster and noorah was used for cementing the stones. The upper portion is built of baked bricks.
Prominent pieces sticks at the roof. Each has five teeth varying in length. They provide ornaments for the mosque. They are modelled after architectuarl elements popular during the Fatimi State, in Egypt.
The gutters are made of plaster and noorah so as to drain rainwater without damaging the internal decoration of the mosque.
The mosque is entered by two doors. The interior is a rectangular hall (6.25 meters long and 5.30 meters wide). It contains three rows of columns each of which contains two. This planning is characteristic of small mosques which are unlike the Prophet's Mosque that contains wings surrounding a yard.
The bricklayer made use of the bricks and columns of the temple. There are cylindrical and multifaceted columns which have differently-shaped crowns. The columns and crowns resemble those found in temples in Mareb and Jawf provinces. The columns-without arches-support the ceiling. Wood posts horizontally link the columns to each other and to the walls forming square areas decorated with manifold patterns.
The mihrab:
The northern wall (kibla wall) has a rectangular mihrab in the middle. It consists of tow sections: the inner one has small decorated haniah over which there is a pointed arch supported by two columns; the outer section contains also a decorated haniah. There are two columns on both sides with rectangular crowns. A verse from the Holy Quraan covers the mihrab edge written in kufi calligraphy. A strap of decoration runs along it. The craftsmen have signed their names.
The tomb: it is located in the southeastern corner of the mosque close to the southern entrance. When you enter the mosque, it is on your right hand. It is 1.75 meters long, 1.25 meters wide, and 25 centimeters high. The tomb is marked by crowns of ancient columns so that people know its location and do not tread or pray on it.
The walls of the mosque are 5 meters high. Up on the walls, there are about 15 straps of decorations in the form of inscriptions and floral patterns.
The Ceiling: Perhaps the most fascinating part of the mosque is its ceiling which is made of wood with floral engravings in it. They are pointed with different colors especially gold. A French team worked on maintaining the ceiling for about 12 years, and finished the task in 1997.
Thula Grand Mosque
It dates back to an early period in the Islamic history. The date is not accurate because of the additions to the original building. The walls of the mosque and its annexes are indistinguishably mixed.
The mosque lies on a high hill in the town center. It is accessible through a climbing path. Its southern side opens onto a spacious yard. To the west, there is a rectangular hall with tow semicircular arches serving as entrances. The southern entrance is decorated with a big pentagonal artificial leaf over which there is a circular opening. The hall might have originally formed a construction unit within the main body of the mosque. It might have been used for teaching. Some pieces of writing on its walls add importance to the hall. They include verses form the Holy Quraan, the foundation statement, and poetic verses. The foundation statement indicates that the mosque was completed in 797 Hejri.
The front of the mosque faces the southern plain aspect of the aforementioned yard. In the middle, there is the main entrance of the mosque on line with the mihrab. There is another entrance on the western side. The interior of the mosque reveals old and new mixtures of architecture. Confusion is apparent in its components.
The mosque is rectangular n shape. It is 28 meters long and 20 meters wide. It contains rows of columns carrying semicircular and pointed arches. This area can be divided into two halves:
The northern and southern sections
The northern section has a length of 18.90 meters from the east to the west. The arches between columns are in parallel to the kibla wall except for a few of them. The number of columns in the first three rows towards the kibla are five each. The fourth row however comprises seven columns while the last one four columns beside a thick wall. The difference in the column number is due to changes to the mosque.
The kibla wall has a mihrab in the middle with an arch and inscriptions above. Two circles in the form of multifaceted flowers are impressed on the arch. The mihrab is surrounded by verses from the Holy Quraan with floral decorations as a background. This section of the mosque may date back to the eighth Hejri century.
The southern section stretches from the east to the west. It can be divided into two units.
1-The Eastern unit is an extension of the northern section and seems to be a later addition to the mosque. The semicircular arches are pointed and in parallel with the kibla wall. It has a wooden ceiling that was renewed recently.
2-The western unit forms a self-contained small mosque within the overall structure. It dates back to the Ottoman reign. Its columns are closer to each other carrying pointed arches. The roof has small domes and a big one in the middle. This mosque is characterized by calligraphic inscriptions as well as plaster geometrical and floral patterns. They represent an appreciable artistic work. Decorative elements are seen on domes. This mosque has a small mihrab.
The minaret is situated to the southwest. It is a new cylindrical minaret with a body getting narrower as we climb ending in a pointed conical peak. The bathrooms are on the southern side and reached through a small door on the western side. of the mosque's southern wall.