Thi al-Sufal: A town of monuments [Archives:2005/891/Last Page]

November 3 2005
T h e   m i n a r e t   o f   t h e   G r a n d   M o s q u e   i n   T h i   a l - S u f a l .
T h e m i n a r e t o f t h e G r a n d M o s q u e i n T h i a l – S u f a l .
In spite of long history and cultural importance, Thi al-sufal remains a neglected town, therefore this article is to provide a glimpse of this archeological town to you, dear reader.

Thi al-sufal lies at the foot of Ta'akar Mountain, at the top of Dhaba valley, 43 km south of the town of Ibb in the Yemeni Midlands. Thi al-sufal lies about in a large area containing a number of districts and villages, such as Nakhlan, Wadi-Dhaba, Al-wuhs, Shawait, Alashraf, Alsaif and Al-hod.

The mention of Thi al-sufal is limited to a few historical sources, in which the name is articulation of the name is discussed along with the biographies of some of its prominent clerics. The eldest of these references that mentions Thi al-Sufal is the famous geographical encyclopedia of Yagoot Alhamawy. He mentions it as one of the important villages of Yemen at the time.

Thi al-sufal is thought to be established in the late first and early second Hijri century (6th century). There are no definite historical references that mention the exact date. It is presumably that it was established as a town by Prince Ali Bin Alqamah in the era of the Sulaihi State, and became famous as a town for education in the third hijri century.

Dr. Abdulrhman Jarallah, professor of Islamic architecture in Sana'a University, wrote in his book 'Thi al-sufal town of Islamic archeology' that the choice of the position of Thi al-sufal coincides with the requirements of good living at the time, such as abundance of food, grazing areas potable water and temperate climate. There are many water sources in the town. A spring called 'Almanbi' runs on the rocks all the year round. The town was supplied with water from this spring in 550h or 1155 AC. It was carried by channels that were running along side the mountain, across Dhaba valley. Other sources of clean water are the rain waters that are collected in Wadi Dhaba. They were used in agriculture irrigation. As for food, Thi al-sufal is famous for its fertile soil and the abundance of food.

Alhigary mentions in his book: 'Tribes and regions of Yemen' that Thi al-sufal is full of fine agricultural products, among its products are the coffee, corn, barley bananas and others. It is also famous for being a green land all year, with its grazing fields and temperate climate.

Another factor for the town is the fortification. This could be natural or by man-made walls. Thi al-sufal enjoys natural fortifications because it is surrounded by high mountains from the north, east, west and part of the southern direction. The southern part of the town is also famous for its plateaus, which are natural barriers against invaders, saving the people of the town who also enjoyed the protection of the neighboring tribes because it used to be the valley's hub of education.

Dr. Jarrallah says that the town contains several religious establishments and prominent landmarks such as the market and the central mosque, the mosque is in the town center with easy accessibility, through making all the roads in the town leading to the central mosque. All the roads start from the mosque and run to all directions.

There are two kinds of markets, the permanent market is near the mosque and extends to the south through two opposite lines of shops. The other market is the weekly bazaar, held in an open area in the town. People gather on the market day to sell their agricultural products and livestock.

The most important historical site is the Grand Mosque in Thi al-sufal. Its exact building dates back to the era of Khalif Omer Bin Abdulaziz in the first Hijri century. The fist mosque that was built is thought to be a simple building with no ornaments. The present mosque is a rectangular building with irregular sides which has undergone 9 stages of building; its dimensions are 18, 15, 40 by 40 meters. There is a hall for prayer, and the inside constitutes a number of different historical periods. A roofless building overlooks the mosque, it architecture is similar to that of Thulla and Ibb grand mosques. Stones were used in building most of the parts of the mosque, particularly Dibsh Hard rocks were used in building the basements, which usually have irregular shapes. Above them basalt (black stones) are used. The upper walls are built from grey igneous stones. Bricks are used in building the mosque's minaret. Wood was used in making the doorsteps and the southern roof of the prayer hall. Mud is used to cement the sides of the mosque.

The tops of the mosque tombs were covered with the water-resistant Qadad, which is white material used as cement. The inner prayer hall is rectangular in shape, extending from south to north. Its dimensions are 18.6 by 16.45 meters. The prayer hall is divided into two the northern and southern sections. The northern part consists of a rectangular of 16.4 by 5.8 meters, overlooking the platform, followed by a big tomb. The tomb is surrounded by two western and eastern wings covered with small tombs. All the tombs stand on eight pillars. The pillars carry 17 pointed beams which have two centers.

The southern part is rectangular with an area of 16.6 by 12.6 meters. It has two lines of stone pillars with three pillars in each side. They are carrying three semi circular beams. The beams and the pillars are supporting a flat wooden roof consisting of wooden posts extending from south to north.

The platform lies to the right of the hollow of the mihrab (prayer niche) parallel to the wall. It is made up of wooden frame that is made of strong wooden strips that form the base for the staircase of the platform. There are beautiful ornaments on the platform.

The court yard is to the south of the prayer hall. It is bordered by the pool in the south, and the residential room in the east. The room is over the western gate of the eastern toilets. The western border is the mosque's wall. The court yard is a north east rectangular area of 12.95 by 2.9 meters dimensions. The floor is covered with black (habash) stone.

The mosque's minaret is in the southern corner of the prayer area. It is made of an octave shaped base. There is another octave short stone part over it. Above it is another octave brick part, which is longer than the previous one. There is another cylindrical part. An ornamented part is on top of the tomb. On top of the minaret is a small square tomb.

There are other mosques in Thi al-sufal, such as the Alsied mosque and women tomb. Thi al-sufal is also famous for its schools which were built in the time of the Aiobian and Rasoli dynasties which ruled the valley thereafter.

The town of Thi al-Sufal and the surrounding area cherish many other mosques, schools and historical landmarks that will be covered in future articles.