Even older than the 2,500 Old City of Sanaa is the Marib Dam. On June 1, the ancient Great Marib Dam, described as “one of the grandest engineering marvels of the ancient world” and one of the most important ancient sites in Yemen dating back to the ancient Queen of Sheba, was damaged by Saudi airstrikes which hit the better-preserved northern sluice. The original dam was first built in the 8th century BC, in the city of Marib which was once the capital of the kingdom of Sheba (Saba). Saba, or Sheba, was one of the four great early kingdoms of Yemen; the largest and most prosperous.
Marib is close to the area where Yemeni oil and gas reserves are found, and has long been an area of tribal conflict in Yemen. Currently the Houthis are fighting with Al Qaeda for control. All of the Saudi bombs are falling in areas where the Houthis are active. This was bombed on 22nd June.
A new dam was then built more recently, close to the location of the old one, at the expense of the late ruler of the United Arab Emirates, whose tribe resettled from Marib to the present UAEsome time in the 17th century.The new dam is built of earth across the Wadi Dhana, creating a storage capacity of 398 million cubic meters. The dam site is located 3 km upstream of the ruins of the old Ma’rib dam. The new dam, like the old, was designed to store water for irrigating the Ma’rib plains. However, the wadi bed at the new dam site consists of alluvial sand and gravel material 30–50 m thick. Seepage emanates from this dam that does not threaten its structure,but does lose water. As a way of capturing the seepage, consideration is being given to rebuilding the ancient Ma’rib dam, both as a functioning structure, and also as a historic monument and tourist attraction. The complexity and volume of work involved in this project make it necessary that several organizations work together under the aegis of UNESCO using financial contributions from international organizations. (Wikipedia). However, with the current situation of unrest this is unlikely to happen.
A UNESCO site which was bombed to extinction without any world protest was the Al Qahira Citadel in Taiz. Bombing was reported on 12th May 2015. This had recently been restored and was now a recreational and tourist facility. The earliest portions were certainly pre-Islamic and it might have been one of the most ancient sites in Yemen, with some claiming it was there since 10C BC. On top of it was built a beautiful Ottoman fort. It took 3 days of bombing before it finally was totally demolished.
Saada, in the north west portion of Yemen and close to the Saudi border, and the home city of the Houthis has come in for particular bombardment. Parts of the city had already suffered extensive damage in 2004-2009, when the Saleh government with support of Saudi Arabia conducted wars in this region, and Saudi crossed the border in a military incursion themselves in 2009. However, what is left of the city has now disappeared. This includes stunning the 9th Century Al Hadi mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the world, bombed on 9th May 2015. This was followed by the bombing of the pre-Islamic city of Baraqish again a UNESCO site on the 11th May.
This loss to the world is compounded by the displacement of a whole population, some of whom were related to the militias but many of whom were just ordinary Yemeni working people. Some Saada residents were already living in refugee camps ran by Oxfam since 2009, and although Oxfam told the Saudi authorities the exact location of the refugee camp and advised them that it was not a military site, the camp was bombed on one of the first days of the campaign. The bombing continues as Saudis strike nearby villages on an almost daily basis.
Another Citadel that was bombed was close to the Red Sea port of Hodeida, the Sharif Citadel in the city of Bajel. This was struck on 24th May. I can find no details of damage sustained.
One ancient site which I knew well which I believe is lightly damaged is the Dar al Hajjar, the House on the Rock. This was a palace of the last Imam of Yemen who was overthrown in the 1960s. It was built in 1786 and is an icon of Yemen, it is in a valley north of Sanaa called Wadi Dhar. Prominently located in the centre of the wadi, it is visible from most of the mountains that surround the valley, and I often went running in this wadi, with the view of Dar al Hajjar from many vantage points. Now a museum, it was hit on 4th June.
I am hoping that this wonderful museum survives the war. Part 3 describes more architectural gems that have been damaged.