The wonder of Yemeni windows architect [Archives:2007/1086/Last Page]

September 17 2007

Hamid Thabet
For Yemen Times

The old city of Sana'a is one of the famous cities of the world for its buildings, with their beautiful, decorative and artistic windows, which are unique and the designs are an accumulation of effort and development, a pleasing sight for the eyes of those who enter the city. Because of their distinctive features and uses, the windows have been given different names. For instance 'Al-Mashrabia' -Lattice windows, and 'Shubbak' and 'Kushk '-Pysak windows. Each one of these has its own class of architecture.

'Shubbak' is made from bricks and stones and the wooden 'Shubak' is a small 'Mashrabia' with a cage on the outside wall, which acts as ventilator and prevents the cold from entering inside. The two types of windows shows the progress made in time.

The Arabic style of windows is a rectangular box of wood, like a cupboard which is placed in the wall. The front of this rectangular box is decorated by designs with holes, but the Turkish style of windows is different from these in features and decorations. In appearance it is placed in the angles of the wall which gives it a triangular shape, also the 'Koshk' is the most attractive and beautiful. The origin of these is also by the Turks, who on entering Yemen brought their architecture with them. The name of the window itself is Turkish from the word 'Kiosque', which is very ancient. Most of these are found in a place called 'Bir-Al Azab'. 'Koshks' are decorated very artistically and is much complicated than the others. One of these 'Koshks' is in the palace of the daughter of Imam Ahmed who was married to one of the sons of Shami and also Koshk-Al Khair which had been made in 1938 in Bir-Al Azab for Imam Ahmed in time of his father Imam Yahya, is one of the biggest Koshks in Sana'a.

The 'Al-Mashrabia' windows have numerous holes and the importances of those holes are necessary for ventilation for food and water. The windows do not completely face the sun but have a way for the air to enter inside to always keep the temperature in the rooms cool. It was also useful for women to look outside without being seen, as in those days women were not able to be in touch or go out as much as men so the only way to be in contact was the window and also it is in use even today. It is also useful to see who the caller at the door is. This type of window was used by the rich because the material used was expensive and all could not afford and those who wanted to protect their families and ladies and also in order to show off. The bigger 'Mashrabiyat' was also used as a balcony where the family can sit together and relax.

Yemen was economically prospering due to its trade and contact with the outside world mainly for coffee and incense in the 18th century, and due to this people came to know more about the uses of glass, which is one of the most useful material in the window. Those days glass was rare and very expensive which only few people could afford. Glass was used for decorating the windows to give them an artistic and majestic look. And also tainted glass were more in use as it gave the windows and the interior of the buildings beautiful colors with the sun shining through them. These kinds of glasses were almost only used by the wealthy because of their rareness and being expensive.

It is hard to differentiate these windows as to whether it is made by Yemeni Jews or the Turks, as there is no accurate information. But through some specialized architects in Yemeni culture and historical structures, like Saba Al Sulehi and Yassin Ghalib and others who live in old Sana'a have up to a great extent information about the history of these windows and their origin. As at that time, only the Yemeni Jews were craftsmen and it was also their profession because of the class system, hence, in almost all their works due to the Jewish influence there is a 'Star of David'. On the other hand, Turkish windows became well-known when they entered Sana'a, and especially when they settled in Bir-Al Azab area. The windows differ widely from the Yemeni, as we see their work is very unique.

With the passing of time and the country being modernized, the people have made a shift from the old to the new. The Yemeni architecture is apparent not only in the old houses of historic Sana'a, but also in the new houses, which are built today. Modern architectures in Yemen are still influenced by traditional architecture.

Although Yemen has been modernized and many changes have been made and added but we can still feel the spirit of the old structures alive, which hold a fascination for the whole world.