Minarets in Sana’a: Unmatched in architecture [Archives:2006/947/Last Page]

May 18 2006

Yemen is a main part of the Islamic world as it was one of the first countries to respond positively to the call of Islam. Yemen sent its delegations to the Prophet PBUH to declare their embracement of the new religion and to support the Prophet in spreading Islam. Therefore many mosques were built around the country upon the directives of the Prophet PBUH. Books of history mention that Yemenis were professional in architecture and that many Islamic cities like Fustat were modeled after Sana'a. Therefore, it is no wonder to know that Yemenis excelled in building worship shrines and particularly the construction of minarets.

In his “The Minarets of Sana'a City,” Dr. Ali Saif mentions that the minarets of Sana'a are for the first time mentioned in 881, specifically the minaret of the Grand Mosque in Sana'a which was built upon the order of the Prophet PBUH. According to narrations, a portion of the mosque with its eastern minaret collapsed but Mohammed bin Ya'fur rebuilt it in 881.

The twin minarets of the Grand Mosque:

The Grand Mosque has two minarets one of which on the eastern side and the other on the western side. They are still standing at present. The eastern minaret stands at the southeastern corner of the encircled yard of the mosque. It consists of a square pedestal with 5.75 in length. The 10-meter-high base of the minaret has a door on the northern side opening into the yard. A cylindrical portion tops the base, which resembles the minaret building style prevalent in Iraq. This part is plain with small holes for light to enter. This minaret has a balcony with harmonious decorations in the form of geometrical shapes. above the balcony is an octagonal portion with one window each. Atop the minaret lies a dome with a ball-ended iron spire.

The western minaret of the mosque is in the southwestern side of the mosque. It still has its own architectural characteristics since it was rebuilt in 1206. It has a square pedestal, which is 4.25 meters long with a door to the south. Some 5.5 meters of the base is built out of stone while the rest is built out of baked bricks. Above it is an 8-meter cylindrical portion with small holes for light. This portion ends at a balcony with 12 facets set on wooden props.

The city of Sana'a has many other old minarets towering among other buildings including those of Aqeel Mosque, Al-Madrasa Mosque, Al-Qubba Al-Muradiyah, Al-Fulaihi Mosque, Saladin Mosque, Qubbat Al-Bukairiyah, Qubbat Talhah, Mosa Mosque, and Al-Abhar Mosque all of which show a great deal of craftsmanship. Some of them are more magnificent in terms of architecture and decoration than the twin minarets of the Grand Mosque.

Elements of construction and ornamentation

A typical Sana'a minaret has the following main parts: base, body, balcony, dome, pole, staircase, and spires.

The base is that which underlies the whole minaret and its size must be in proportion to the height of the minaret in order to withstand the weight. It is always square in shape with the lower part of it usually built out of stone and the upper part of baked bricks.

The body of the Sana'a minaret is different from those found in Iraq and other Muslim countries. In Sana'a, most of them are multifaceted.

A small dome on top of the minaret is considered to be a major components. In Sana'a they are either hemispherical or multifaceted in shape.

The dome has usually a spire standing in the center with a crescent turning toward the Kaaba.

Another important part of a minaret is its pole (the core) on which it depends. It is built of stone first and then of baked bricks. The staircase depends on the pole, which gives the whole structure binding force even at time of earthquakes.

There are other minor components such as arches, entrances, windows, etc.

More so, the decorations of the minarets reflect the aesthetic sense of Yemeni builders and architects. They are of different types: geometrical, scriptural, interwoven, etc. they adorn different parts of the minaret starting from the base upward.