Alex Marchand, View Across the al-Ameriyya Mosque to the Fortress of Rada.
Architecture ranks among Yemen’s greatest cultural achievements. Long before the time of the Queen of Sheba, a staggering array of traditional building styles had already evolved in harmony with southern Arabia’s diverse topographies and its challenging climate. Yemen’s built environment is characterised by sturdy forts and fortifications, towering houses and strategically-perched mountaintop villages, connected by networks of stone-paved pathways. Their steeply-terraced fields are watered by impressive irrigation networks. Generations of highly skilled craftspeople have used indigenous technologies and whatever materials were available to create splendid architectural assemblages – in the words of a master mason, ‘Buildings that fill my eye’. Their scale and balanced proportions continue to arouse the aesthetic sensibilities of visitors.
The aims of this exhibition are to share the splendours of Yemen’s architectural heritage and to raise awareness of its cultural and historical importance. It also reveals that this heritage is threatened by a civil war that has raged since 2015. In addition to the humanitarian crisis and loss of life, key archaeological sites, museums and historic buildings have been damaged or obliterated. All three of Yemen’s ancient cities on the UNESCO World Heritage list – Shibam, Sana’a and Zabid – are now endangered and numerous other monuments have been battered by the conflict. Tragically, prospects for peace appear to be a long way off. The exhibition draws attention to the pressing need for international collaboration to protect this precious heritage. If forgotten, it has no future.
(Photo courtesy of Alex Marchand.)