Once the capital of medieval Yemen, the city of Ta’izz bears the scars of some of the worst fighting of the country’s current civil war. Occupying a strategic location between the major urban centers of Sana’a and Aden, Ta’izz was transformed into one of the longest-running battlegrounds of the Yemeni conflict. Here at the front lines of war, between 2015 and 2017, rebels seeking to wrest control from the government left a path of destruction as they held the city under siege. But in the wake of violence, signs of revitalization emerge.
Since 2018, World Monuments Fund (WMF) has led a wide-ranging initiative to support the recovery of one of Yemen’s most iconic cities. Reinvigorating landmarks and reasserting their role in communal life, local heritage professionals trained by WMF have stabilized the Ottoman-era mausoleum Qubbat al-Husayniyah, finished conservation of the Imam Palace in the Ta’izz Museum complex, and will embark on a new project to rehabilitate Hammam al-Mudhaffar, a public bathhouse built in the late thirteenth century. This extraordinary work is only the start of the Old City’s continued resurgence. In collaboration with local stakeholders, WMF will also develop conservation guidelines for the historic center that facilitate its long-term protection and support a vision for greater livability.
“Preservation can be a powerful tool to bring together communities after the brutality of war. The buildings that are being restored are symbols of the history, dignity, and resilience of the Yemeni population and we are proud to be working with them on this crucial endeavor,” said Bénédicte de Montlaur, President and CEO of WMF.
WMF brought international attention to the condition of Ta’izz’s urban heritage and the welfare of its residents with the inclusion of the Old City on the 2018 World Monuments Watch, WMF’s biannual program spotlighting 25 sites under threat with the potential for social impact. Since then, WMF has partnered with the General Organization of Antiquities and Museums (GOAM) in Ta’izz to conserve important cultural sites in urgent need of intervention and to develop a blueprint for long-term stewardship.
In September 2018, WMF was able to intervene thanks to funding from its Crisis Response Program. Because the conflict prevented WMF staff from traveling to Ta’izz, the project at Qubbat al-Husayniyah was focused on empowering and building the capacity of WMF’s local partner. Working around this challenge, WMF convened training workshops for GOAM staff in Kuwait that equipped them with the necessary skills to implement conservation measures back in Yemen.
Qubbat al-Husayniyah was in a state of rapid deterioration due to dire economic circumstances exacerbated by the conflict. Completed in March 2021, the emergency stabilization project repaired cracks in the mausoleum’s dome and addressed encroaching vegetation that placed the entire structure at risk. The building’s foundation was reinforced where needed and walls restored according to traditional techniques. Damaged stones in the façade were either remedied or replaced. However, part of this work is temporary in nature and will require regular monitoring as well as a plan for future conservation.
Ta’izz, Yemen bears the scars of some of the worst fighting of the current civil war. Since 2018, thanks to the @BritishCouncil Cultural Protection Fund and @ALIPHFoundation WMF has led an initiative to support the city’s recovery.
— World Monuments Fund (@WorldMonuments) March 31, 2021
Imam Palace and Al-Badr Palace, Ta’izz Museum Complex
The intervention at Qubbat al-Husayniyah built momentum for more complex projects. In 2019, WMF received support from the British Council Cultural Protection Fund for the physical rehabilitation of the Imam Palace, part of the Ta’izz Museum complex and home to the National Museum. This nineteenth-century Ottoman building sustained significant damage when it was shelled by Houthi rebels in February 2016. Following an earlier phase of façade restoration completed at the end of 2019, the restoration of its interior spaces was finished in February 2021. To further strengthen local expertise in the conservation of the buildings and the management of the museum collection, additional workshops were held in Kuwait and Cairo that built on past training curricula.
In partnership with the International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas (ALIPH), WMF is engaged in another phase to rebuild the adjoining structure, Al-Badr Palace, which will house the country’s Heritage Museum. Partially destroyed in the conflict, Al-Badr Palace will be restored according to international conservation standards with compatible traditional materials. With this undertaking, WMF is collaborating with the Musée des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Lyon to develop a museography program to be introduced throughout the entire Ta’izz Museum complex to help reestablish a connection between the people of Yemen and their culture.
With additional support from ALIPH, WMF is launching a new project in July 2021 at Hammam al-Mudhaffar, one of Yemen’s oldest surviving public bath complexes, to restore the site’s original function and support its vital role as a refuge for residents seeking solace and social connection. Once completed, the reopening of the hammam has the potential to inspire regeneration throughout the ‘Udayna quarter in the Old City.
Since being recognized on the 2012 Watch, Hammam al-Mudhaffar has only deteriorated further during the years of conflict. Interventions overseen by WMF will address a number of issues at the site, including broken domes, missing glass, roof leakages, lack of waterproofing, debris, and failing water and electrical systems.
Beyond individual projects, WMF is preparing a set of conservation guidelines for the protection of the entirety of the Old City of Ta’izz. A crucial resource for informing future development that is sensitive to the city’s defining historic features, the guidelines will enable GOAM to proactively safeguard their cultural heritage when the inevitable reconstruction and development of the city takes place. This effort, supported by ALIPH, will put culture at the heart of Ta’izz’s long-term recovery through a collaborative process inviting participation from local stakeholders and communities.
“The protection of the exceptional cultural heritage of Yemen is a key priority for ALIPH. We can intervene in this country thanks to partnerships like the one we have with WMF, which has a great experience in cultural heritage rehabilitation and works hand in hand with local actors.” said Valéry Freland, Executive Director of ALIPH.
Top Image: View of Ta’izz in 2014. Photo: Wikimedia Commons