The invincible Hab Fort [Archives:2006/934/Culture]

April 3 2006

Ahmed Saleh Al-Shariqi
Hab Fort is one of Yemen's ancient forts located atop a lofty mountain strategically overlooking Ba'dan district in Ibb province. At an elevation of approximately 2,200 meters above sea level, Hab Fort extends from the east to the west for two kilometers.

The famed fort is bounded by Al-Du'ais area and Al-'Awd Mountains to the east, Maidan area and Ba'dan Mountain to the west, Al-Sabrah district to the south and Al-Harth area to the north.

Historical significance

Hab Fort has its own significance as it is one of the most invincible strongholds in Yemen. Paralleling Al-Ta'kar Mountain on the west, Hab Fort contains a spacious area with a long wall built on the edge of the mountain's flat surface. At the foot of the mountain is a local marketplace called Tabee'.

The mountain is very steep with precarious areas. It stands prominently and has the potential to survey a large area of Ba'dan and Al-Sha'ir districts. Ancient Yemenis knew that it could best serve as a fort. The present fort has a great gate, a number of storage houses, a mosque, annexes, steam baths and tanks. The fort also contained an old school built by Ali bin Abdul-Rahman bin Mohammed Al-Nidhari.

Some historians claim that the name “Hab” (Arabic for grain) was given to the fort because it was the only fort for storing grain. However, the fort also was militarily and strategically significant, which is why kings and invaders focused on it. There are two ways to access the fort, one of which is modern and can accommodate cars and the other is a snaking old stone-paved path.

Hab Fort also is significant as host of the first Ibb Tourism Festival.

Hab Fort features

Located on the southern side, Hab Fort's only gate is arched and built of trimmed stones and strong wood planks hewn from local trees. The fort's stones were brought from far away because there were no such rocks in the local area.

Above the gate is a guardroom with an inside door with surveillance holes overlooking the gate's front area. Five rows above the gate is a stone belt with stones protruding like pyramid tips and six rows above this belt is another decorated stone belt.

The gate's walls contain small surveillance holes, as well as holes on both sides of the gate for archers to counteract any attack against the fort. A corridor extending inward from the gate zigzags so entrants must go left, then right and then left. Behind the fort's main building is an annex used for sentries and as a watchtower.

The wall

Hab Fort contains a long wall, running, as aforementioned, along three sides of a cliff, with the fourth side overlooking a deep abyss that cannot be breached. The fort's wall contains architectural characteristics of ancient construction. Although the fort is invincible by virtue of its natural features, ancient Yemeni architects further fortified it by means of a wall of trimmed stones.

Cylindrical multi-story towers are built at intervals in the wall. Each tower's top floor is used to monitor the landscape and spot approaching enemies. Hab Fort's towers are designed differently than other Yemeni forts in that each overlooks the other so they can watch out for the adjacent one.

Fort walls also feature narrow surveillance holes. Another of the wall's defensive traits is that unfixed stones protrude from its top row so enemies cannot climb over it. A further line of defense is located behind the wall in the form of mud piles. Apart from the wall's defensive function, its aesthetic design and harmonious structure, Hab Fort reflects the greatness of ancient Yemenis.

The mosque

Within the fort area is a small mosque, a small square yardless room built of stone and a thin layer of qadhadh (a local substance resembling plaster used for cementing bricks) and decorated in its interior. The mosque is domed with a small crescent atop it and has no verses or decorations on its external walls. The mosque's door is rectangular and arched.

Inside the mosque, one can see an arched mihrab (a niche at the front of the room where the imam prays) with a plain belt around it. At the dome's interior side are some rectangular shapes. The mosque contains tank and bathroom facilities, the latter of which are ruined and need rehabilitation.

The main building (the palace)

The palace is a large three-story building built on a square plot beside a small deep pond. The palace gate is on the western side. The palace's ground floor contains several rooms before which are several pillar-borne plaster-covered neatly built arches.

The second and third floors are divided into several rooms, kitchens, bathrooms and storage rooms, with a hall lying in front of each group of rooms. The ceiling is built of wood and covered with a plaster-hay mixture. Unfortunately, the ceilings of some rooms have collapsed, requiring urgent maintenance.

The palace is significant as it is among the famed palaces of Ba'dan district which is a part of Thi Ru'ain region, which in turn is under the umbrella of the wider term, “Al-Kila'.”

Yemen's renowned historian Abu Al-Hassan Al-Hamadani mentions, “Thu Ru'ain is a region inhabited by Al-Adwi tribesmen and other minorities. Within this part lies Hab Mountain

History books indicate that Hab Fort was the seat of influential pre-Islamic Yemeni ruler, Yarim Thi Ru'ain, whose grave was identified there in Islam's early years. The fort also was mentioned in great works of Arab historians and geographers. “Hab is a famous citadel in the land of Yemen,” Yagout Al-Hamawi says.

Mahmoudi treachery

Hab Fort is said to have continued functioning normally until Hijra year 968 when it is reported that Mahmoud Basha, an Ottoman ruler in Yemen, launched a military campaign against cleric Ali bin Abdul-Rahman Al-Nidhari, who was lord of the fort at the time.

The story is that Mahmoud and his troops closed in on the fort wherein Al-Nidhari and his soldiers were entrenched. The invading troops besieged the fort on all sides but couldn't conquer it. However, the number of those inside the fort was so many that food and water could not suffice them.

Therefore, Al-Nidhari thought to reconcile using Ismaili cleric Mohammed bin Abdillah bin Ja'far as an interceder. Al-Nidhari agreed to leave the fort with his family to a place of his choosing. When the reconciliation plan was approved by both sides, Al-Nidhari sent his son to Mahmoud, who honored him and gave him a pledge to honor his word.

The next morning, Al-Nidhari himself went down with a group of his men to Mahmoud. Being in his hands, the latter ordered them all executed. He then ordered his troops to climb up to the fort and pillage it. Thus, history mentions one of the most notorious stories of treachery and unfaithfulness.

Manmade ponds

Within the area of Hab Fort are four manmade ponds used to store rainwater. They are several meters in diameter and as deep as three meters. All are open and named as follows: Al-Tawilah (The Long), Al-Asaliah (The Hazel), Jarat Al-Dar (Neighbor of the Palace) and Jarat Al-Jami' (Neighbor of the Mosque).

At 60 meters long, Al-Tawilah is covered with a layer of qadhadh and built of stone on three sides (eastern, western and southern) while the northern area is part of the rocky area. The pond is rectangular and seems to extend from west to east. A trace of a ditch is discernable, running from the pond to the main palace gate. Al-Tawilah is one of the fort's largest and its depth cannot be determined exactly as its bottom heaves under a heavy weight of mud, weeds and trees accumulated over the years. However, its apparent depth is three meters.

Small in size with spiral steps to its bottom, Jarat Al-Jami' is another square pond located beside the mosque.

A small square pond, Jarat Al-Dar lies right beside the palace, once the property of Al-Nidhari. Apparently, it was the pond from which palace dwellers took water. Steps go along its western wall to the bottom. The number of ponds in the fort shows its dependence on rainwater.

The ponds were used for a variety of purposes such as drinking and washing, as well as irrigating plants and watering cattle and livestock. It was the custom of Yemenis to preserve and store rainwater for their year-round use. In some parts of Yemen, dams were constructed, as it is the case with Marib Dam. However, in such a lofty place, ponds carved from hard rock were the feasible alternative to store water.

Grain cisterns

Part of the fort's invincibility lay in its ability to store food and water; therefore, Hab Fort contained approximately 16 underground cisterns to store grain and prevent it from perishing. As previously mentioned, many historians consider that Hab Fort basically was associated with grain, with one historian saying it was the only place where grain was stored in ancient times.

Grain harvested from lands belonging to the Fort's lord were collected from nearby areas and transported to the fort where they were stored in underground cisterns carved out of rocks. Each cistern stored one particular type of grain. Cisterns were approximately five meters deep, narrow at the mouth and wide inside. Channels connected the cisterns in the interior.

The fort's 75-year-old guard, Abdul-Rahman Shamsan, said the fort's most spacious cistern is called Al-Jahim (Arabic for inferno), explaining that it is named thus because it is large and can store a large quantity of grain. Shamsan, who has been at the job for about 30 years, said some of the watchtowers are named. He pointed to them, uttering some of their names: Shamsan, Rafi' and Al-Saq. According to him, the palace itself was named Al-Qaflah and the building annexed to it was called Al-Saqah.