To the outside world, Yemen is an obscure distant land where Al Qaeda terrorists hang out and men sit around chewing khat, but to its own residents and others familiar with the Middle East, the land harbors a treasure trove of historic artefacts (and so much more).
Not only does Yemen have one of the largest collection of multi-storey clay towers, otherwise known as Manhattan of the desert, but it also boasts an impressive collection of stone buildings that date back to the 1st millennium BCE. This includes the Thula Fort in Sana’a, which is one of 20 nominees for the 2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
Threatened by a potential road construction project, the people of Thula got together to launch a preservation campaign to protect the ancient Thula Fort.
With help from the Social Fund for Development and under architect Abdullah Al-Hadrami’s guidance, they restored sections of the fort that had fallen to disrepair – including the Al Mayah cistern still in use today, a stepped pathway on the fort’s upper section, and a wall and watch tower.
Located in the capital, the 8,754 square meter site also includes burial sites and agricultural terraces that were also rebuilt under the scheme.
Also, while working on the preservation project that was completed in 2011, an archaeological site was discovered with gates and walls that researchers expect to shed further light on the ancient Sabaeans and their civilization.
The $1 million award will be awarded in September by the Aga Khan Development Network, which was founded by His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims.
“The award’s mandate is different from that of many other architecture prizes,” according to the organizers.
“It selects projects – from innovative mud and bamboo schools to state of the art “green” high-rises – which not only exhibit architectural excellence but also improve the overall quality of life.”
Launched 36 years ago, the award has recognized 100 projects, and a total of 7,500 building projects from around the globe have been documented.