Old City of Sada’a:Unique heritage needs to be preserved [Archives:2004/720/Culture]

March 15 2004

By Kamal Haglan
Archeology Expert

Yemen has a unique and distinguished cultural heritage, and the three Yemeni cities listed on the World Heritage List are the proof of the significance value and importance of this heritage and the need to preserve it not only for Yemen but for the entirety of humanity. It is worth mentioning that in addition to these three cities, many other cities in Yemen have historical value. In this paper I will try to present a brief summary of the importance and value of the city of Zabid, as well as the current situation and the efforts made for its preservation.
The city of Sada'a is one of the oldest and most important cities in Yemen, still maintaining a good condition to date compared with other historic cities in Yemen. It still preserves its unique architectural pattern and historic mud buildings and monuments. It still functions as a living city up to the needs and requirements of the city and the inhabitants in all its social, economic, cultural and residential fields.
The history of the city goes back to the third hijri century (Ninth century AD). It was planned by Immam Al-Haddi (Yahyah Bin Al-Hussein Bin Al-Qassem) and is 3 kilometers from the location of the ancient Sada'a at the top of Tamlass mountain with all its remains and runes. Since the establishment of the city of Sada'a, it witnessed a lot of urban development giving it the characteristics of an Arab Islamic city with all its architectural and urban planning and main divisions represented in the form of markets, caravansaries, castles, old public bath, schools, mosques and the wall surrounding the city. Despite theses developments, the city still maintained its Arab and Islamic authenticity. It also flourished as a city of science, religion, culture, trade, industry and agriculture along with its main role in the events of the Islamic era that went through a lot of clashes and wars in the Arab region and specifically in Yemen.
The city's importance lies in the fact that the city represents another symbol of the history of Yemen, and another chapter in its evolution and development. It is a living witness to Yemeni history thousands of years ago.
The city of Sada'a reflects the architectural skills and capacities lying there for thousands of years. The current urban fabric and planning, the markets, services, walls and the gates reflect its regional importance and the vital role in the economic, defensive, social and commercial aspects. It, at the same time, reflects the impact of Islamic regulations on the lives of the inhabitants and their deep commitment to these regulations and rules clearly noticed in the city pattern and the social relations existing till the very moment.
A visitor to Sada'a feels when entering the city that he has moved back in time. There are four to five story buildings very rich in architectural and ornamental characteristics, doors and windows can be found in the inside. Tourism, for many years, represented one of the most important development sides since the city was one of the most important stations for tourists and was a source of income. But tourism in Sada'a like any other city in the country was negatively affected in the last few years. Despite the great importance of the city, it was for so many years not paid attention and its preservation and conservation as a historic city against the negative impact enforced by development was not highlighted, and that was not systematically implemented on the city in all the living fields such as the political, social and economical sides. All the above mentioned negatively affected the city and its historical pattern and resulted in changes in the urban fabric of the city.
On of the most important factors leading to the above mentioned situation was economic and commercial development, because of the needs and requirements of commercial development that usually include the expansion of shops and markets. The impact of that development is very much present in the changes that took place in the market area that went through huge changes where many traditional commercial buildings in harmony with the general fabric of the city and the special fabric of the market area were demolished, replaced with new commercial buildings constructed with new building materials and different architectural designs. They are in no way in line with the city architectural design, since their forms and designs stress on their detachments and prove to causing deformities to the beauty of the city and the pleasure of shopping.
In addition to all mentioned above, the size of these new buildings kill the spirituality and privacy of the historic city. The commercial development has also resulted in a general increase in the number of cars inside the city, and specifically in the market area where traffic jams are caused all the time because heavy loaded vehicles enter the city causing deadly traffic jams, let alone that there are a lot of roaming venders and shop owners who started using the spaces in front of their shops to sell their goods. This continuous circulation of vehicles into the city threatens the safety of many buildings due to daily vehicle circulation, in addition to pollution since most of the cars used diesel.
On the other hand, the social and population growth has also resulted in many changes in the building pattern of the city. Many new residential buildings were constructed using new building materials and different architectural patterns to that of the city, especially in the eastern area (Harat Al-Mam). In all the neighborhoods there are additional stories or rooms added onto historical buildings due to a natural need for expansion and more space, and most of these additions or expansions were randomly made with the use of violating materials despite the fact that there is a law prohibiting that. Several other buildings collapsed as a result of the negligence and lack of maintenance, while many other buildings are in bad constructional conditions, walls wrecked due to water leakage and the absence of sewerage systems. This resulted in the deterioration of the living and environmental conditions especially on rainy days when the streets and alleys turn into mud causing diseases. The historical monuments are in no better condition, and many of them are in bad and deteriorating conditions for a very long time such as the (Qaslah, the only caravansary, the wall and several mosques).
Lately attention was drawn to the importance of taking care of this city and its cultural and historical heritage, and the importance of preserving it and its monuments. This attention was the result of the increased awareness of official and public concerned parties regarding the importance of the preservation of historic cities in Yemen in general, including the city of Sada'a. It also reflects the general attention and tendency to preserve our human heritage, culture and unique civilization.
A number of practical steps were taken in this direction, such as the restoration of Bab Al-Yemen and some mosques. The first phase of the restoration of the city wall and the rehabilitation of a number of Migshamas is under implementation funded by the SFD. It is also worth mentioning that preparation is made for a strategic action plan for the preservation of Sada'a city as well as a development plan for the district of Sada'a, implemented by the UCHS&MP funded by the Government of the Netherlands, in collaboration with the MoCT & GOPHCY and in Coordination with the Leadership of Sada'a Governorate and the Local Council of the City of Sada'a.
These plans aim at recording the current condition of the city and all its buildings, and then set an overall vision and integrated strategy on how to preserve the city and its monuments. It also works on setting the implementation mechanisms for restoration, maintenance and rehabilitation projects.
Despite these positive indications, there is a need for more efforts and the provision of required materials for the sustainability of the city preservation and stop any new constructions or additions violating the city pattern. It is of prime importance to present regulations for restoration and maintenance activities, especially in the mosques and historical monuments, through coordinating with other concerned authorities to avoid causing any damage or harm to the sculptures, arts and Islamic ornaments and also to avoid randomness in restoration that might result in the demolition of these arts.
Strict procedures should be taken against anyone who breaks the law, and currently all required procedures to control and limit the damage should be taken, trying to maintain the present situation as it is, since carelessness in this side will only harm the city. It might be useful to point out the importance of collaboration and joint efforts by all concerned parties (official, public, or NGO's), even at the personal level. All is working for the same cause, aiming at the same objective, and that is the preservation of the city and its urban heritage belonging to all. At the top of this come the inhabitants of Sada'a themselves.