Nurah in traditional Yemeni buildings [Archives:2004/799/Culture]

December 16 2004

By Ismail al-Ghaberi
Yemen Times Staff

The standing palaces reach proudly into the sky, they are made of clay, which is shaped as sun-baked blocks. They are colored with a white substance similar to blaster that is called nurah. It has been known and used by our forefathers for thousands of years. Nurah and ash are considered key elements of constructing buildings and strengthening water tanks, dams and many other daily purposes. This substance is derived from a type of mountainous stone.
Raw materials and resources:
Making nurah is difficult, time consuming, and is an inherited skill. The makers take the brown sedimentary stones, called Rukbah, from the valleys near to where they live.
Nurah ovens:
They are not like normal ovens and are made specifically for this purpose, they are circular in shape and are made of clay. Each oven is nearly three meters in diameter and five meters in height. The oven is narrower at the top and it has a hole in one side attached with the fire-room for providing the oven with fuel. There is another hole (Al-Jafnah) that is large enough for a person to enter and place the stones.
First step
The stones are organized inside the oven by putting the bigger ones at the bottom. The process may take two days because space needs to be made between the stones in order to let oxygen enter.
Plenty of oil needs to be prepared for the process, an amount of wood worth YR 50,000 are required each time the stove is used.
After preparing the components and the oven, about five men feed the oven with wood and oil for nearly 26 hours. The stones become highly fragile and they are then beaten in order the make them like the flour.
Cooling nurah:
After burning the stones, they should be left for enough time to cool. The longer they are left, the better their quality. They are then transferred to the place of “syatah” (beating), Al-Mahqat or Al-Rasa'ah.
Al-Syatah (beating):
When the stones get cold, they are put in Al-Mahqat to beat them. Al-Mahqat is a 2×2.5 meter area that is set with middle-sized stones. One or two workers with fireproof shoes spray water on stones with pipes and the stones break apart.
One or two other men beat the nurah for nearly 12 hours. The quality of nurah is proportional to the time spent beating it.
Syatah is considered on of the most important qualities of nurah. This step is carried out with a machine. After Syatah, nurah is taken to bigger basins water to be left for four months. It can be used for clay walls and sometimes appears like Chinese marble.
Nurah in traditional architecture:
Nurah is widely used in traditional architecture. A huge quantity is consumed when painting the clay houses. Nurah is sometimes mixed with smooth sand to make the nurah strong.
People have used nurah for a long time in places like WCs, roofs of houses and other places where water is found. It is often very decorative if it is used for coating around windows, verandas, and ventilation and light holes that are placed above the windows.
The house is left for a week or more until the step of 'Rashushah' in which a brush made of palm leaves is used to spray the wall with nurah twice. Rashushah is mixed with sugar and salt to make the nurah permanent. Red sugar is preferable for its quality and strength.