The Seera Castle [Archives:1998/03/Last Page]
This is the third of a five-part series on the main fortresses in Yemen.
Lying within a gigantic volcanic crater, Aden features a wonderful chain of fortresses, which starts from Jabal Hadeed at the northern edge of Aden and extends southwards to the hill over Holkat Bay. These fortresses were built on hill tops in almost a straight line opposite the east side of the city of Crater. The majestic Shamasan mountain stands high behind Crater and from all other directions. Along with the chain of fortresses, it forms an impregnable defense system to protect Crater.
Seera Castle The Aden fortresses are bound together with beautiful walls all the way from Jabal Hadeed to Holkat Bay. The only exception is the opening opposite the Seera Island where the Seera castle stands at the top of the island’s hill. Seera Island is one of the biggest islands surrounding the city of Aden and is connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land. The Seera castle serves as an observation post to monitor ships going to or leaving the port of Aden, and it is also used to act as an advanced defense line against attacks from the sea.
The date this castle was built is uncertain. History books indicate that during the reign of Al-Zorai’ dynasty (1083-1173), various fortifications were built to reinforce the castle. Rulers of this dynasty were the first to build the castle’s and the Aden wall for which they brought the stones from Abyan. It is quite possible that they also built the castle itself since historical accounts indicate that at that time, the place was constructed with reeds and date-palm fronds. So were the Aden walls which were rebuilt by the Ayyoubids during 1173 to 1229. They probably reinforced the Seera castle. Many historians agree on dating the castle back to the 12th century A.D. The present day castle and its extra fortifications, however, were constructed during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Natural Defenses Further down the hill, some of rocks are nicely sculptured to form a natural wall surrounding the castle, in addition to its man-made fortifications. Trenches are also carved into the rocky hill side, extending from the foot of the castle’s wall to the foot of the hill itself.
Pirates & Invaders This castle witnessed many a bloody battle with invaders and sea pirates alike. The Romans, during the reign of Claudius Caesar, invaded the castle and destroyed the main Aden harbor which was situated at the foot of the Seera hill. People still talk about the brave struggle put up by the fishermen with their simple weapons against the invading British force led by Captain Hanes in January, 1839.
Myths & Legends Since ancient times, the port of Aden had been the focal point for ships and merchants from various parts of the world. It was the meeting point of different cultures – Islamic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., making it the subject of many legends and sailors’ tales such as the Indian, “Nurturing Mother” legend.
Aden’s “pyramids” The famous gate of the Crater and Holkat gate were part of this defense system. Unfortunately, the bridges of these two gates were blown up in the 1960s by the Aden municipality to widen the entrances. During the blowing-up operations, a British eyewitness commented, “Now Aden is not Aden.” To many people, the Crater gate is to Aden as the pyramids are to Egypt!
Seera Beer Last but not least, Seera was the brand name of a locally made beer that used to be sold and consumed in the southern part of Yemen before unification. The Seera brewery, however, was burned down during the civil war of 1994.
By: Mohammed Shaker & Ridhwan Al-Saqqaf, Aden