Yemen's heritage is slowly being turned to rubble

Yemen's heritage is slowly being turned to rubble
Yemen's architectural gems took hundreds of years to build, but could be gone in the blink of an eye if the war continues.
3 min read
12 Jun, 2015
Missiles landed near Dar al-Hajar last week (Getty)

We have become accustomed to seeing the destruction of Yemen.

Yet, when the places destroyed are buildings you remember, streets you walked down and sights you loved, the pill is harder to swallow.

I woke up this morning to hear that one of my favourite parts of Sanaa's historic, beautiful and unique Old City had been bombed by the Saudi coalition.

The al-Qassimi district of the Old City, a Unesco World Heritage site, sits near the Sayilah, a beautifully designed road that serves as a way for the summer's torrential downpours to flow through the city without flooding it.

The row of houses, each several storeys high and made of mud-brick, lime and gypsum, sat in front of one of the Old City's many gardens. A beautiful setting.

Now there is a massive gap in the middle of that row, with a pile of rubble where people have dug for survivors.

These civilian properties are just the latest of Yemen's little-known architectural gems to be destroyed or damaged in this war.

In Taiz, a large city in the centre of the country set in the foothills of a huge mountain, the ancient al-Qahira Citadel sits proudly on a hill.

I still remember visiting it over a number of years, as renovation work slowly took place, before, finally, one summer, the work was done. From the citadel my cousins pointed out a historic mosque where the tomb of a long-gone ancestor lay buried.

Taiz is now a war zone.

The Houthi and Saleh forces trying to take control of the city saw al-Qahira as a useful position from which to shell their opponents. The Saudis responded by taking it out in an airstrike. It now also lies destroyed.

Other parts of Yemen's heritage are at risk, or completely gone.

Aden, a pearl of a city on the southern coast that was always too hot for my northern Yemeni mountain blood, is now decimated – that is the only word for it.

The apartment blocks that lined its main roads are now empty shells, its population having fled.

Crater, the old part of the city that is literally in the crater of an extinct volcano, is a ghost town, with the few civilians who have remained at risk of dying from disease, as well as a stray bullet or shell.

Dar al-Hajar, the rock palace that lies in a valley just outside Sanaa, was almost hit by missiles last week. The Marib Dam, on the site of what locals say is the world's first ever dam, has been hit.

The archaeological sites of the ancient civilisation that that dam allowed to prosper, Sheba, have barely been uncovered from the sands. Yet even they have not escaped, with the Temple of Sheba, one of Yemen's national symbols, caught in the crossfire during the fighting in the area.

Of course, the lives of the thousands killed in Yemen's war are more important. But I, and many other Yemenis, feel a deep sense of pain when we see the destruction of our heritage, places that we want to share with the world.

It took our ancestors hundreds, if not thousands of years to build our cities in the sands and our palaces in the mountains. All it takes is a moment for them to be destroyed.