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Last updated: 11:48:10 AM GMT(+03) Tuesday, 08, April, 2014
 
 

Sa`ada After Yesterday: Rich History, Modern Challenges

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 By Shaher Abdulhak Saleh

 

Irena Knehtl
irenaknehtl@gmail.com

 

The Yemeni geographer Al Hamdani (ca 900 AD) writes much about the city of Sa`ada and its surrounding. From him we know that Sa`ada used to be known as Yemeni region well before Islam. He mentions that Sa`ada lies in the middle of Qaraz region. Qaras is an Accacia tree from which juice and the gum "Arabicum" used to be extracted. In the surrounding of Sa`ada are some of the best wadis with horses, fruits, grapes and much animals.

Al-Hamdani`s writings are the earliest recordings about Sa`ada region.

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The main road between Sana`a to Sa`ada passes through a stony desert like region scattered with green, irrigated fields and with watch towers and grain stores dotting the landscape. Past Khamir and Huth, the road turning west leads towards the broad wadi Lissan. North of Huth, the main road towards the city of Sa`ada continues through al-Harf crossing, a desolate – but beautiful – landscape of lime stone pavements pierced by volcanic stones.

Mud walled on both sides of the road many of the houses are painted with ochre stripes. Settlements in this area would be constructed where seasonal rains or ground water can sustain cultivation and are traditionally build of "zabur", layers of coarse clay mud, and libn, sun dried bricks, both derived from alluvial soil.

The color of the houses thus harmonizes with the countryside around. The clean white and dozens of vivid color that make the region's home so distinctive; have long been prepared by women. In the traditional house, women are responsible for plastering and painting of walls, corridors and ceilings after men finish building them. A uniquely expressive interiors and elaborate geometric patterns, and color combinations.

Traditional architecture of Sa`ada region is characterized by four to six stories houses, palaces and castle build with mud. The tick walls are built with mud, while the narrow doors and high window were made for the purpose of security and defense, and to keep the temperature moderate throughout the year.

The administrative center of this Yemeni governorate is the historic city of Sa`ada, 243 km north of Sana`a, situated on a green and fertile plain, 2261 m above sea level.

The city itself was built on the spot of pre-Islamic Yemeni kingdom. Sa`ada used to be of strategic and political importance to the Yemeni pre-Islamic kingdom of Main, a role the Governorate of Sa`ada continues to play for modern Republic of Yemen.

The region is a natural road leading to the north. In the past Sa`da used to be ideal meeting point for caravans which arrived from ancient Marib and then proceeded to the north.

The Islamic history of Sa`ada begins in 897, when Imam Yahya Ibn Hussein Al-Hadi made Sa`ada his capital. At the rise of Islam, the Yemeni province Sa`ada was a flourishing trade center.

Named Al-Juma in the past, the historic city of Sa`ada, is located at the foot of Thalmas mountain, on which is an unconquered castle. The city is surrounded by a fortified wall. Built in 16th century, it has 52 towers and four gates: Najran, Swedan, Mansourah and Hamdan.

Al-Hadi mosque built in 9th century is considered among the oldest and most beautiful historic mosques in Yemen. It houses tombs, valuable manuscripts and books.

Sa`ada market used to be the place where members of different tribes and caravans met not only for trade, but also to discuss crops, business prospects, politics and marriage. Even today, it retains these social and economic functions. A bustle of cars, pick up trucks and people, all of which had been converging since the end of dawn prayers. The markets are organized by trades and loosely arranged in sections, as it has been since time immemorial.

Merchants of vegetables, fruits, livestock, clothes, shoes, toys, candy and a variety of local tailored coasts. Merchants sitting cross-legged next to each other, daggers, silver jewelry, straw baskets.

Next to the city of Sa`ada beings the opening of wadi Najran, which runs from west to east and flows into Empty Quarter. Scattered around Sa`ada but united by common architectural style of the region, surrounded by gardens of grapes, pomegranates, fruits, are some beautiful villages. Villages dotted with brightly white painted mud-brick skyscraper houses are attractive architectural features of this Yemeni region.

The Sa`ada plateau is among the most fertile in Yemen. Farmers are growing black grapes, pomegranates, peaches, apricots, figs and other fruits. With an altitude of 1800 m above the sea level, it is one of the highest Yemeni flatlands where fruit is grown.

Upper Yemen is dominated by series of major tribes. With exception of Khawland b. Amir, five tribes around Sa`ada, most of them belong to one of other two famous Yemeni tribal confederations i.e. Hashid or Bakil.

The people of Sa`ada have lived off their farm and animal and have enjoyed semi-independent lives and a very loose social and political structure for centuries.

Modern Challenges
Along with opportunities generated by modernization and globalization some challenge that must be faced, the loss of traditional markets, increased competition from imported goods, changing attitudes towards traditional life styles and modes of productions along with rapidly evolving cultural expectations have lead to decline in traditional crafts and often social status.

The challenge here is working hand in hand to take advantage of emerging commercial opportunities, in particular, for traditional crafts, representing this regions identity and originality, and pass such skills to future generations with pride.

In addition of essential infrastructure and provision of services, such as electricity, health and education in order to make life more comfortable, they also need capital for packaging plants for their fruits and dates and other productive capacities in order to be able to tap domestic and regional market.
A network of modern roads with which the governorate has been covered, will further enable opening of economic and commercial opportunities.

To endure harsh times – or even benefit from them – it is essential to tape that deepest stratum of personal identity, that which is deeper even than fate, and which is incorruptible even by harsh realities. It is essential in order words, to take the well spring of human endurance: hope. And to keep in mind that failure – the final taboo in modern society – is but one part of the inevitable cycle of life for those who dare to live full and completely.

Somewhere beneath the distress and loss, is a "reserve" of strength that has been building for this kind of opportunity enabling to focus on positive.

Sa`ada at a glance
The Yemeni governorate Sa`ada lies in the north of Republic of Yemen. It borders on Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The administrative center of the governorate is the historic city of Sa`ada, 243 km north from Sana`a.

The relief of Sa`ada governorate is varied, as it is its population: Mountains, towns, villages, plains, glass lands in the eastern part of the governorate.
High mountains to the north and west, such as Khawlan, Baqim and Razih mountain range (2.800), AlKarb, Al Muftah, Marran, Al jomah, Haydan, Wair, Al Manar and Haysh mountains.

WHAT TO SEE
The historic walled city of Sa`ada, one of the most beautiful historic cities of Yemen

The region is known for its castles, palaces, ancient watch towers along the "Pilgrimage Route" or "Haj Route, and the "Frankincense Trail" . .

A number of interesting forts, such as Sinara, Sama, Tulmus and Al Aba fort, Razih fortress and Humrun to the north west

Um Lailah Mountain, some 20 km off Sa`ada, which probably used to be an off splinter of caravan road Aden – Sana`a – Sa`ada- Mecca – Gaza. This significant archeological site contains stone paved road, reservoir, grain stores and defense construction such as towers and fortified walls. There is only one road leading to the fortified city, and a breath taking scenery awaits the visitor

A trip to Razih mountain is rewarding for its breath taking scenery

Sa`ada also boasts a large collection of ancient rock paintings. In mountains and caves and rocks are full of inscriptions and paintings of animals and geometric shapes
 

 

 

 

 

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