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Dar Al Hajar – Yemen, Sana

 

Some buildings take on a character of their own, often by being so very different to the landscape around them. Modern architecture and planning usually has the sensitivity of the local area at its heart. Making sure a new building is in keeping with the surroundings tends to be high on the list of priorities. But the most striking buildings can be those that stand head and shoulders above the surroundings. These are the buildings that can be seen from some distance – and look fantastic to boot.

Dar al Hajar is one such example of a building like this. Only 15 kilometres from the capital city of Yemen, Sana, you will find this amazing building perched on top of a rock, looking for all the world like it has been out there by mistake. But that wouldn’t do justice to the marvel of design and engineering. Look at it from any angle and you will be transfixed by the beauty and detail that this 1930’s built property holds.

 

A Rich History

Dar al Hajar, or the Rock Palace as it is also known, has stood in the Wadi Dhahr Valley since the 1930’s. The Imam Yahya had the place built in the 1930’s as his home as head of the Zaydis and Yemen. He had become a spiritual leader for the nation in 1918, before deciding that his home should befit his status. It looks as though it rises straight out of the rock, but the construction was one of hard labor rather than natural movement of stone. It became his summer residence, a place to turn to when the heat of the sun was too strong, and he needed time to break away from his duties. The Imam lead the country for many years before he was assassinated in 1948. In a world of turmoil at that time, he didn’t survive much beyond the end of the Second World War.

In the years since, the place spent some time unused but has been converted into a kind of museum, where people can ascend the building and take a look at what life might have been like for the Imam and his people. People now just buy a ticket and turn up, but back in the days of the Imam, I suspect that you will have had needed good reason to be granted an audience there.

A marvel of construction

We take modern building construction for granted. But, back in the 1930’s it would have taken an awful lot of manpower to build something as spectacular as the Dar al Hajar in this location. Yemeni architecture is traditionally about beauty and intricacy, so that is no real surprise to the eye. But the fact that all of this has been achieved on top of a huge rock is what makes it absolutely remarkable.

The building looks like it is perched on top of the rock. But the foundations must dig into the natural structure to give it the stability that has seen Dar al Hajar stand for over 75 years. The building has five floors, and in the days of the Imam, you would move up the floors only if you have the right status. The lower floors were for the staff that looked after the ruler and his guests. This included the kitchen, storage rooms and (as things were in those days) the meeting rooms for women. Then there are the meeting rooms for those granted audience with the Imam, as well as his living quarters.

The technology used in this extraordinary building is something to behold. There is a system to cool water in earthenware jars that allows people cool drinking water in this hot part of planet earth. In addition, the clever architect has allowed outside space, so people can take in the sun and light when they want. With a small footprint to play with, this takes innovative design to ensure that the building doesn’t feel totally isolated from the rest of the world. The takhrim windows are typical of the Yemen and show of the status of the owner of the property, as well as shelter from the intense heat of the sun.

This is a building that stands out because of its location, but is still in perfect keeping with the place it sits. Modern planning authorities might frown upon such projects, but the rest of the world smiles at them.

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