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Flashes of Cultural Heritage

Dr. Belkis Muthar Al-Ariqi


Yemen is rich in tangible and intangible heritage, at the level of the governorates, directorates and villages as well. The cultural heritage of each region has a special flavour that distinguishes it from other regions. Yemen is the country of ancient civilizations, the country that is the richest in its cultural heritage, whether architectural heritage such as residential buildings, forts, castles, mosques, inscriptions, drawings and clothes, or intangible heritage such as customs and traditions, dialects, “zawameel” (folk songs), traditional songs and dances. 


A visitor to Yemeni cities such as old Sana'a, Shibam, Kawkaban, and other historical cities stops at its courts to mediate their charming architectural beauty, capturing with his phone the pictures of their beautiful towers and documenting with his blog the ingenuity of innovation, as Yemen is the first country in the world in which skyscrapers were built, which is a wonderful example of our beautiful heritage, which is closely linked to the national identity.


However, in recent times, this heritage has faced many problems that have serious repercussions that may lead to the obliteration of the Yemeni identity and change the demographic of Yemeni people.


Identity and heritage are two sides of the same coin, and through them, the personality of the individual, the group and the cultural identity of the citizens of any country are formed, but this identity today faces a great challenge, due to the turmoil and crises Yemen is going through in the current situation.


Globalization also affects identity and heritage, as it reduced interest in the relationship between man and his heritage due to his focus on development and modernity, which led to the disappearance of some determinants of identity and the obliteration of some archaeological monuments that occupy a large area in many Yemeni regions, which are clear evidence of the successive civilizations on the land of Yemen throughout the ages.


Shibam Hadramout is considered as one of these evidences that has been neglected, which resulted in the failure to exploit cultural diversity in a way that serves the tourist identity supposed to be highlighted. This is a dilemma that light must be shed on and efforts must be exerted to identify the main causes for it to reach appropriate solutions that help saving the archaeological monuments and introduce them to the outside world in a way that serves the tourism field in Yemen.


Old Sana'a - which is a source of pride for the generations residing in it, and which is ranked as the seventh prominent global landmark in the global vote adopted by UNESCO to select seven of the most prominent global historical monuments as new wonders of the world from among twenty-five world historical landmarks that competed for the title of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was chosen as one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2002 AD - it is being neglected, as its buildings currently suffer from direct and indirect threat, due to rain torrents, or due to dilapidated infrastructure, in addition to the repercussions of the war imposed on Yemen from bombing and others.


The repercussions of neglect and the imposed war have made the old city of Sana'a vulnerable to extinction and obliteration, as UNESCO announced in one of its reports last August that 111 of the old houses of Sana'a had collapsed, on top of which is the home of Al-Bardouni Mutanabbi of Yemen.  In this context, it must be noted that Yemeni public opinion has sensed this danger, as evidenced by the emergence of some indicators of societal movement to save and protect the old buildings of Sana'a through the community initiatives that were established for this purpose, including the “Sana’a needs us” initiative that was established by a group of young people, but this does not exempt the official authorities from their responsibility to take actual measures to protect this ancient city although it is difficult to achieve this at the present time due to the harbingers and repercussions of the futile war in Yemen.


It should be emphasized here that cultural diversity should not call for intolerance to the heritage of a region over another but rather it is a field for promoting social cohesion, peaceful coexistence, and strengthening the unifying national identity of all Yemenis of all cultures, in a way that helps the current generation to have glory of their past, solve their contemporary problems, and plan for their future.  .


In conclusion, to preserve the Yemeni cultural identity, interest in the national architectural and cultural heritage must be strengthened and linked to the Yemeni identity and must be communicated through the various media, in addition to encouraging domestic tourism, so that all the people of the country live with their multiple cultures within one entity being pride in the Yemeni identity as a culture and one Yemeni identity that is sacred and respected.  Therefore, we stress the importance of preserving heritage and monuments and protecting them from the destruction caused by the security disturbances resulting from the repercussions of the war or due to natural disasters. The UNESCO condemned the looting and destruction of Yemeni heritage and demanded that official authorities, local and international organizations and individuals be enabled to protect and preserve cultural monuments, as they are a national wealth for future generations, so preserving them is a national responsibility, as whoever does not have a past will have no present and no future.

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