Taiz: The Cultural Capital of Yemen [Archives:2000/22/Culture]
Mohammed Abdul Rahman Al-Massani, Taiz
When Sultan Toran Shah fell ill, his doctors recommended Taiz as a health resort for him due to its salubrious climate and fascinating beauty-spots. “It is one of the greatest and beautiful cities,” Ben Batotah writes. In 9 Hijrah, Moad (may God be pleased with him), arrived in Taiz to teach Islam and build a mosque that was named after him in Al-Janad.
Taiz is 256 kms to the south of Sana’a. It is located in a strategic point on the Saber mountain, bounded by Al-Janad, Zabid, Aden, Saber and Atta’akar.
Since 1229, it had been the capital city of King Al-Modhafar, whose control extended over Hijaz, Yemen, Oman, Somalia, Makkah and Al-Madinah. During this age, Taiz was at the peak of its enlightenment and cultural renaissance. The role it played in spreading science and knowledge was not in any way less conspicuous than that of Baghdad, Grenade, Cairo and Damascus.
During the period following 626 Hijrah, that is during the regime of Al-Rasolians, Taiz became the focal point for many scientists who flocked there in pursuit of knowledge. One of the greatest scientists of the time was the Yemeni astronomer, Mohammed Ben Ahmad Al-Hasseb Abi Al-Oqoul, author of Mira’at Al-Zaman (Mirror of the Age), 1300. His researches were broader in scope than those done in Cairo and Damascus.
Antiquities and citadels
There were 360 schools during the Rasolians regime in Taiz. These were distinguished by their unique designs that reflected the fertile imagination of their architects. Al-Ashrafiah school is a representative example. As a matter of fact, it played a double role for it was also a mosque, apart from being a center of learning.
At the outset it was known as ‘Taiz.’ Subsequently, its name was changed to Al-Qahirah and the name ‘Taiz’ was adopted for the area surrounding it. It was built by Abdullah Ben Mohammed Al-Solaihi in 1045.
Al-Janad is located to the North east of Taiz. It was chosen by Moad, the Prophet’s messenger to Yemen, to be his place for teaching Islam. It also gained prominence for a mosque known as Al-Janad Mosque or Moad mosque.
This school is one of the most eye-catching old buildings that adds a certain kind of enchantment to the city. It was built by the Sultan Al-Ashraf Ismael Ben Al-Abbas in 800 Hijrah. The school was designed in a such way as to fit the multi-functional purpose it was set for. The front part of it is a mosque with delightful ornamentation, in addition to a cemetery of the Sultan and his family, and the last part consists of the school with its two tall minarets piercing the sky.
It is the oldest and widest mosque in the city. Unlike the other mosques which served two or more purposes, this was meant only to be a mosque. Senior people still remember the names of its architects: Al-Hussain Ben Salamah during the regime of Al-Modhafar, and Shamsaddin Ali Ben Hassan Al-Ikbar during the regime of Aamer Ben Abdul Wahhab.
It was built in 1002 Hejirah by Sinan Al-Kikhiah. It surrounds the tomb of Hussain Ben Hassan Basha, Emir of Taiz, who was fond of palaces and gardens. There used to be gardens surrounding this beautiful octagonal piece of architecture which was converted into a mosque at the time. Early in the 20th century, before the Turks left Yemen, Qubat Al-Hussainiah was an munition depot. After this, it was used as an oil store. The first time it was rehabilitated was in the 1980s. Oddly enough, a tree has grown on one of its eight sides posing a threat to the durability of the structure.
Conventions and traditions
There are many social traditions and religious ceremonies such as the circumcision of babies and reading the Holy Quran in a group for 7-10 days after the death of a society member.
A great number of Jews used to live in the city. These were not concentrated in specific areas, but were rather mixing with Muslims in all parts of the city. To be distinguished from others, they were sometimes required to don long hair or wear yellow turbans. Some of their traces are still alive such as the Al-Shabzi grave which is occasionally visited by the Jews.
First Friday of Rajab and the Jews
On the first Friday after the completion of Moad Mosque, people gathered in the mosque to listen to Moad’s preaching. Among them were a number of Jews who had a lot of questions to ask. As their questions were convincingly answered, they were converted to Islam. From then on it has become a tradition to celebrate that Friday.
Many kinds of animals are found in Taiz. When King Al-Moaiad sent a gift to the Sultan in Egypt, he included an elephant, a giraffe and a zebra. History also tells us that he used three elephants during wars with his brother. A number of animals were also brought by the Imam to the city. Today, Taiz zoo is one of the greatest tourist attractions in the city.
The most outstanding market is Al-Shanini. There are also Al-Markazi and Souk Al-Jumlah.
Taiz is gifted with breath-taking antiquities, mountains, green valleys and plains. For each there is a great historical back drop.
Some of the city districts have become significant hearthstones to which many people flock, such as Yafros, Hamam Ali Shwai’a, etc. There are also valleys like, Al-Dhabab and Al-Barakani which are famous for growing mango, pomegranate, lemon, banana, papia, palms and vegetables.
The salubrious climate and bountiful nature, along with the available tourist infrastructure including hotels and transportation facilities make the city one of the best tourist resorts in the country. However, there is a need to promote the tourist promotion activities such as organizing festivals for traditional dresses, handicrafts, etc, opening national centers for craftsmen and encouraging them to participate in international festivals to ensure a bee line of tourists to the city of Taiz.