By: Ahmad al-Aghbari and Mohammad al-Ulofi
Translated and edited by: Mahmoud Assamiee
SANA'A, Feb. 15 (Saba)-Zabid Historical City has been suffering the problem of losing its historical identity since 1993 when the city's emigrants returned to it.
This caused population growth led to increasing demand of new housings. "Because the city lacks to baked bricks cremators for more than forty years, people turned to cement brick workshops which provide cheaper bricks for building houses," said Zabid Office's Director of the General Authority of Protecting Historical Cities Arafat al-Hadrami.
He continues with sad tone "with absence of strict protection to city's architecture heritage, violations and distortions to the city have increased."
These distortions which affected the city, says al-Hadrami, are two kinds; the first one distortions resulted by expansion in old buildings with modern materials. The second one is resulted by building new houses with cement substances such as bricks.
These buildings have spread gradually in the city and in areas located before historical and Islamic schools and historical gates. Day after day, he continues, the wastes were distorting the historical sites of the city till these violations have distorted the exterior shape.
The problem has become known to every visitor coming to the city, a matter has attracted the UNESCO's attention on the danger this city faces. Responding to this danger, the organization issued a resolution for including Zabid within the World Heritage Danger List.
According to al-Hadrami, Zabid Historical City has 4200 old houses of different ages ranging between 200-600 years. The city also has 85 mosques and Islamic schools. Four of these mosques are of 1400 years of age such as al-Ashaer Mosque.
Al- Hadrami concludes that 40 percent of Zabid's houses suffer distortions resulted by violation to the historical form of the city, while 60 percent are old wither evacuated old houses or ruined.
Nowadays, Yemenis are waiting the date of the World Heritage Center's meeting due next June for discussing a report raised by the mission of the center which visited Zabid Historical City recently.
The aim of the visit was for discussing the situation of the city and inspecting the implementing the UNESCO's conditions which gave the city two years respite started on June 2007 for maintaining the city or to be removed from World Heritage List.
According to Chairman of the General Authority for Protecting Historical Cities (GAPHC) Abdullah Eisa, the aim of the mission is reporting on what has the government achieved in the city and raising these reports to the center. Based on these reports, the center will issue its decision wither to extend the period of the respite or removing the city from the list.
Director of GAPHC's Zabid Branch Nabil Munasar indicated that the delegation has studied in four-day period the government's works in the city.
Eisa indicated that talks have been made with the mission over the situation of the city and what has been achieved. He asserted that the delegation is satisfied with what has been achieved for protecting the city.
"They (the mission's members) informed us they have touched serious tendency to preserve the city and saving it from the current status it suffers. They also affirmed this in their report raised to the World Heritage Center," added Eisa.
General Manager of the Yemeni-German for Developing Historical City Omer al-Hallaj says the mission has met many concerned partners and observed positive mechanism on different levels.
Professor Daniel Bini, one of the experts who accompanied the mission during their visit to Zabid says we studied the situation in Zabid and felt that there was positive mechanism from the government for changing the situation of the city.
Expansion is expected
In addition to the mission's good impression on efforts exerted for protecting the city, Eisa says the mission demanded continuous efforts from the government. "We seek more time because the problem is great and needs more time. The important thing is achieving something on the ground," said Eisa who expected expansion of the respite.
According to Munassar, the most important remarks and demands of the mission are quick issuing of a law protecting historical cities, removing all violated buildings, providing enough capabilities and boosting traditional construction materials.
"The mission demanded speeding up carrying out administrative and development design to include all maps, engineering studies, awareness programs and reviving traditional handicrafts," he added.
However, Bini concludes that the situation in Zabid is complicated. Despite there is satisfaction on what have been achieved, more work and support is needed for improving the economic situation of the city.
According to GAPHC's official, the decision of the World Heritage's commission has demanded Yemen "instant stop of playing with Zabid's ancient form and distorting the heritage of the city."
Yemen will lose more if the city removed
Al-Hadrami says if the city removed from the list, this will cause great economic and cultural damages. Further more the country's tourism will get painful hit will not cured easily.
This removal will hurt Yemen's fame and doubt the country's ability in protecting its civilization in addition to failure of honoring its commitments to conditions of World, Cultural and Natural Heritage Convention.
The World Heritage List includes three Yemeni cities, Sana'a, Shibam Hadramout and Zabid.
Zabid is considered one of the most western coastal cities with historical and antique significance in Yemen. The city includes many important antique sites besides its scientific status it enjoyed in the past Islamic and historical period.
The city was established in 204 in hijri calendar when it was taken over by Mohammad bin Ziyad upon directives from the Caliph Haron Arrashid.