UNESO-supported project to restore ancient buildings in Sanaa

Lick of paint for Yemen’s historic Sanaa as truce holds

By Khaled Abdullah and Abdulrahman Al-Ansi

SANAA (Reuters) – Yemeni architect Zaid al-Kuhlani watched his workers dab white paint around stained glass windows from scaffolds, part of a large-scale restoration effort of UNESCO-listed historic Old Sanaa that has endured years of bombings during the war.

Others used pulleys and ropes to lift the city’s distinctive brown mud to the top of its damaged unique tower houses as the sounds of traffic and honking car horns replaced warplanes’ rumbling, thanks to a United Nations-brokered truce.

“We are dealing with historical buildings ranging from 300 to 350 years old, and each house is unique in its historical background and architectural style,” Kuhlani said. Old Sanaa dates from at least the eighth century.

Kuhlani added that his work with Yemen’s General Organistion for the Preservation of Historic Cities (GOPHCY) ranges from finding traditional material, securing and consolidating buildings and finally their renovation.

Sanaa and northern Yemen have faced thousands of air strikes from a Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the country’s civil war in 2015 after the Iran-aligned Houthi group ousted the internationally recognised government the previous year.

Both sides agreed in April on a U.N. ceasefire proposal that has suspended air, sea and land attacks while allowing imports into Houthi-controlled sea ports and a partial reopening of Sanaa airport. The truce is the first comprehensive agreement in the war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

About 5,000 buildings were damaged including 380 that were seriously hit and were about to collapse in Sanaa’s historic neighbourhoods, said Aqil al-Nusairi, deputy chairman of GOPHCY.

“A large number of these buildings have been restored when the old Sanaa issued a distress call which was answered by some international donors… through the UNESCO,” Nusairi said.

Anas al-Shuaibi, owner of one of the tower houses, said the challenge was that residents were getting impatient as they were struggling with rent costs elsewhere pending the restoration of their homes.

In the course of war, bricks were used to seal windows in some buildings, replacing Sanaa’s unique coloured window glasses, as residents sought to protect their families from shrapnel.

Inside the houses, workers – wearing bright green vests that read “cash-for-work project” and helmets – used the brown mud to cover wooden ceilings.

“We have lively inhabited cities with their unique history, buildings, streets, planning, urban fabric, traditions, music and manuscripts,” GOPHCY’s Nusairi said.

“Everything in them is heritage.”

(Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)