Travel & Tourism

Taiz: The Dreamy City With Schools Of Science

 

By Tamjid Alkohali

It wasn’t strange when Taiz was announced as the Capital of Culture in January 2013. In fact, Taiz has been a cultural and industrial city throughout the ages. It’s known as the dreamy city for the historical charm of its old and beautiful neighborhoods with its brown brick houses and white mosques. It was inhabited by Bani Rasul, who established a powerful kingdom that ruled the north and south of Yemen for about 232 years.

Taiz is characterized by its culture and topography and has thousands of monuments. It’s a city in the Yemeni Highlands, near the famous Mocha port on the Red Sea, lying at an elevation of about 1,400 metres above sea level.

 

Its population was over 600,000 in 2005, making it the third largest city in Yemen after the capital of Sana’a and the southern port of Aden.

For long time, Taiz was a source of science and culture for many scientists around the world. It holds the grave of the most famous Jewish scholar Shabazi, which indicates that it is a city of peace and tolerance.

 

Building schools was the main job of the kings in the Rasulid era. Historians have estimated the number of schools to be 49. Unfortunately, they have become only ruined domes here and there, except a few which are still facing time in silence.

 

Among the most famous schools in Taiz is the Ashrafite School. The school is located 3,000 meters up on Sabr Mountain, about an hour from Makha on the Red Sea, with picturesque roads that circle the mountainsides.

 

It was established in 1397 A.D, at the behest of king Al-Ashraf, son of king Al-Afdal Abbas. It’s characterized by its unique architecture. The original founding documents can still be seen hanging on the school’s walls.

The school is situated close to Al-Muzafar mosque, and the two structures together make for an extraordinary image. The architects took advantage of the school’s location to design the architectural elements in harmony with the surroundings.

 

They also had an excellent understanding of the space that would be occupied by the building, and created a unique method to make use of such levels within the structure. In addition, they chose a white color for the paint, which made the school appear as a bright pearl on Mount Sabr.

 

A look at the school shows the dexterity of the Yemeni architects in the elements of construction. A visitor who observes the school from any point of perspective will find that all the elements of architecture can be seen. They were designed in a way to avoid obscuring one another, and appear as a balanced visual symphony in a formation of blocks.

The elements that characterize the school include the location and layout. Its various parts, according to its functional partitions, include the prayer room, the central courtyard, sepulchers, classrooms, meeting places, the kuttab (a place to teach children religion, the Quran, and Arabic), facilities, storerooms, corridors and health facilities.

In addition, there are other elements of decoration and architectural adornment, such as porches and various decors. As a whole, these elements make the Ashrafite school one of the most important schools in the era of the Rasulid state in Yemen. It is a clear expression of Arab and Islamic civilization, the modern, urbane lifestyle and the scientific culture that flourished during that epoch of the great history of Yemen.

 

Another school is Al-Muzafar, an important religious structure located in the Al-Odaina area in Taiz. It was established by King AI-Muzafar Youssef. Some researchers suggest that it was constructed during the first half of the King’s reign in 1250 A.D. and was the object of alterations and additions through successive eras.

The building’s white Domes seem as if they swim in the sky. It’s surrounded by dark, rocky highlands. It had a special status for the rulers of the region through the ages, serving as the Grand Mosque of the city. It is also considered an example of a partly hanging school, the first model of school architecture that was adopted later by other Rasulid schools.

 

The current AI-Muzafar school consists of a prayer room (39.60 x 15.18 meters), a front part, and two side parts. The front part contains a square in the middle of which there is a mihrab covered with a big dome built on knots.

 

The eastern and western sides are covered with a number of domes. South of the prayer place is an open courtyard surrounded by porticos. The minaret used to occupy the southeastern part of this courtyard. Across the nave to the west side, there is a flank with two small arches and a flat ceiling. However, the marks of the eastern side were obliterated, and are used now as ablution facilities.

 

Al-Ma’atabieh school isn’t historically less important than the Ashrafite and Al-Muzafar schools, though it has faced many years of neglect.

 

It’s located to the west of Ashrafite School. Al-Ma’atabieh school has the rare distinction of being built by a woman, the wife of Sultan King Al-Ashraf Islamic bin Al-Afdal, who died in Zabid in 796 A.H/1392.

The school is built around an open nave flanked by four porticos, the deepest is the kiblah. The portico of the kiblah is covered by six domes, decorated from the inside with various glittering ornaments.

 

The main entrance to the school is on the south side. However, there are a number of annexes to the school. The most important is the western gathering in which students were educated according to the Shafie School on the subject of jurisprudence. The large hall was created specifically to teach the Koran to young orphans.

 

Many reputed scholars of the era studied at this school. They include Imam Reda Al-Dien Bin Al-Khayat, jurist Hassan Bin Abdul Rahman, the erudite Shams Al-Dien Ali Bin Elias Al-Hamaoui who came to Yemen in 1394, and Shams Al-Dien Bin Said Al-Zubairi Al-Ma’afri who was a specialist scholar in grammar, linguistics, fundamentals, the Islamic law of inheritance, logic, and algebra.

 

Al-Ma’atabieh is considered the only remaining school for women from the Rasulid era. It indicates the distinct status of Yemeni women and their contribution and work beside men in building the Yemeni civilization.

 

All schools built during the Rasulid era were generally similar in design. All are considered schools and mosques in the same time for mosques were places for worshiping and learning as well. The most prominent sciences taught in those schools were Fiqh of al-Shafei, the Qur’an, Sunnah, Hadith, and the Arabic language.