Thula Fortress [Archives:1997/52/Last Page]
During the Holy Month of Ramadhan, Yemen Times will run special features on a selection of fortresses in Yemen. The Thula Fortress is the first of five.
Historical Background The town of Thula, where the Thula fortress is located, is 45 kilometers northwest of Sana’a. It is a strategic fortress with several references to it in the recent and ancient Yemeni history. The town is named after the young Himyarite leader Thula Labakha Akyan Himyar. Himyarite documents, historical references and archeological inscriptions confirm that the Thula castle dates back to the late Himyarite era. The scholar Al-Hamdani, who lived during the 7th century, said that Thula was within the Akyan province. This is around the end of the fourth century, when Yemen was divided into provinces headed by ‘Aqbal’ and ‘Edwa’ , at a time when the central Himyar state was weakened.
From the military and strategic point of view, there is no town that can be compared with the castle and town of Thula in terms of security and defense roles. The fortress forms, along with its historical wall and its various fortifications, a well-defended place overlooking the crossroads leading north west to Miswar and Hajja, west to Suraih and Amran, and south to Sana’a. The town and castle control a strategic triangular position at the center of the crossroads leading to the northern, western and eastern regions. The Ottoman military leader Sinan Pasha said that ‘whoever controlled that triangle, would rule all Yemen.’ Even after a 3-month siege, Sinan Pasha’s soldiers failed to occupy the town and the castle. The soldiers were forced to retreat, and Sinan Pasha was forced to sign a peace treaty with Imam Sharafuldin.
During 1962 to 1964, the castle and town of Thula were the stronghold of the republicans. As soon as the republicans captured that strategic triangle, the republican capital became secure from the royalists’ threat. At that time, the royalist soldiers were dug in Miswar, Hajja, Al-Tawila and Sureih. With the arrival of the first armored vehicle in Thula at the top of Kawkaban mountain, the republican forces secured the defense of a large area. Nowadays, the strategic triangle roads are paved up to the top of Kawkaban mountain and to Al-Aroos castle. The formerly triangle of death has now become a beautiful tourist attraction.
A Bastion The fortress is built on a rocky hill, 65 meters higher than the area around it. Bordering the castle from the east, Al-Sheikh mountain presents several logistic obstacles and military problems. Any army positioned behind “Al-Sheik” mountain is able to make a raid against the castle and the town and snipe defenders. The castle itself is almost impregnable. There is a spiral passage at the breadth of the mountain and people talk of another secret passage inside the mountain extending from the top of the fortress down to the town. The purpose of this passage was to secure the movement of republican soldiers to and from the town. The defense capabilities of the fortress forced the Ottoman leader Suliman Pasha to recognize the importance of the garrison, which unified the function of the castle and the town at the same time. The castle’s mountain is situated at the north west corner of the town and its bulk represents a part of the protective wall. The mountain connects the different wall parts from the north west and south west of the town.
Inside the Fortress: The height of the castle’s wall varies from place to place. The height of the wall at the north-eastern part is 21 meters while the height at other parts is between 7 to 10 m especially, the distant parts. The wall of the castle has 8 big gates. At the middle of every gate, there is a circular arch and at the entrance there are some additional defensive cylinderical fortifications called “Nowb”. There are 40 nowbs. The town of Thula, which is itself within a protective wall, is not a big town. However, its architectural shape, road planning, and the plaster ornamentation, some of its buildings like the grand mosque give it magnificence and opulence. These date back to the 16th century. The castle’s premises consist of small polygonal squares. In the middle there is a fountain, from which the water flows to the town through stone channels and into a pond, from which water and is available for the people.
By: Dr. Mohamed Shu’aibi.