Al-Hundaydah, Yemen: una lettura pluridisciplinare. Primo rapporto preliminare (1997)
Fontana, Maria Vittoria and Galdieri, Eugenio and Giunta, Roberta and Caterina, Lucia (2000) Al-Hundaydah, Yemen: una lettura pluridisciplinare. Primo rapporto preliminare (1997). Annali dell’Università degli studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”. Rivista del Dipartimento di Studi Asiatici e del Dipartimento di Studi e Ricerche su Africa e Paesi Arabi, 1998 (58/1-2). pp. 110-142. ISSN 0393-3180
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This is the first preliminary report of the 1997 expedition organised by Istituto Universitario Orientale, Naples, at Hodeida (Tihamah, Yemen), whose aim was the investigation of the late Ottoman area of the city. Four more sites of the Tihamah, al Luhayyah and al Mukhā on the coast, and Zabid and Bayt al-Faqīh in the interior, were also included in the survey (fig. 1). First mentioned in 1454-55 (Schuman 1975), Hodeida is not an ancient town. Its urban development can be reconstructed on the basis of European literary sources starting from the visit of Niebuhr in 1763, when the town belonged to the Imām of Sana. The town was ruled by the Ottoman first in 1849, and then from 1872 (Baldry 1976). It was shelled first by the Italian Navy in 1911, and then by the British in 1918; it was again conquered by the Imām of Sana in 1925 and, finally, in 1934. The brief survey devoted to the fabric of the city and to some of its buildings allowed us to single out the main problems which should be trackled. The settlement is rather deteriorated, and, at the same time, characterized by a continuous renovation. From the collected evidence, it is clear that it originated as an exclusively trading centre which reached its peak at the time of the second Ottoman occupation and the opening of the Suez Canal. In those days Hodeida was not different in aspect from that exhibited, although in other periods, by the other two Yemenite ports on the Red Sea, al Luhayyah and al Mukhā. The town centre became a real town, albeit poor and chaotic, only when economic decadence began. Our research project aims at studying the urban and architectural transformation through time and the typology of the buildings in relation to functional changes as well as at identifying the stylistic and constructural influences on the main extant edifices. It also aims at checking if their façades show different building phases and if they can, along with other architectural solutions, suggest a dating. We finally expect to produce a tentative reconstruction of the seaside prospect (al-Kūrniš) before that marine erosion, naval shelling, decadence of the trade and neglected caused the complete disappearance of the edifices (fig. 4). Nineteen of the inscriptions discussed in this report are from Hodeida. They are generally found on the wooden lintels of the doorways, but a few are carved in stucco panels (fig. 7; pl. IVa). The inscriptions are cursive, with diacritical marks, arranged in two rows on a plain and undecorated background. Twelve of them are dated (from 1193/1779 and 1212/1797 to 1397/1977; for the first two see figs. 2, 6, and pl. III). The formulary is mostly taken from the Koran; the basmala introduces two or three Koranic verses (often the end of verse 173 of Sura III, i.e. of the Family of Imrān); the digits are preceded by sana (year), and sometimes by the day and month (see scheme at p. 132). Some parallels can be found in Sana. With regard to the inscriptions from the other sites of the Tihamah, two, from Bayt al Faqīh, have a different content. One of them is particularly interesting. It is carved in a rectangular stucco panel (1393/1973), with the basmala, a few Koranic verses, the šahāda, and the eulogy (pl. IVb). It bears in the middle a 3 x 3 magic square (wifq) where the sum of each horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines is 102. The architectural decoration of Hodeida is very similar, both for materils and style, to that of the Tihamah (Stone 1985; Bonnenfant 1991: 783-85), and especially to those of al Mukhā and al Luhayyah, but shows some special features. The outside and the inside of the buildings are decorated with the same materials, carved wood and stucci; furthermore, we remark the use of plastered bricks outside, and of painted wood inside. Outside, the wood is carved, incised, and turned. The main façades show balconies (at least two kinds, an Ottoman type, and an ‘Indian’ type, with magnificent patterns, pls. V, Via); windows (with plain decorated flaps), sunshade covers (sometimes showing elaborate ornaments, pl. VIb; see Varanda 1982: 162; Bonnenfrant 1991: 785), lintels (two main types, both often inscribed, either bearing a plain decoration, or more complicated, whose top consists sometimes of a coved frame, pls. IIIa, VII, VIII), corbels and piers (plain or decorated, pl. IXa), doorways (bearing few carved doors, pl. VII). Stucco elements lie as crenellations (pl. IXb), and the carved stucco is used on the lunettes of the doorways and on their sprindels (pls. IIa; X); stucco panels can decprate the façades (we find also inscribed cartouches, pl. IVa). The plasteres brick plays an important role for the crenellations of the buildings, for the ornament of the façades, often used as horizontal or vertical bands (pl. XIa), and for the screen of the windows (pl. IXb). Inside, the wood, monochrome or polychrome, and often carved, is used for doors, columns, capitals, and pediments (pls. XIb, and XII); wooden planks of several sizes make up the ceilings (pl. XIIIa). The plaster of the walls is interrupted by niches (pls. IIb, and XIV). Some blue-and-white porcelain sherds were collected from the surface at al Mukhā. They date fron the nineteenth century and belong to dishes, cups, and bowls (‘kitchen ware’: Willets 1981) made in South China for the exportation into the South-East until Southern Asia. We also find two well-known types: two sherds of a dish belong to the type known as ‘Allāh dish’ (pl. XVa, b, above; its original ornament was the chrysanthemum; Aga-Oglu 1951); few others, decorated with a motif derived from the Sanskrit character om (pl. XVa, b, below), are known as ya shua (tooth-brush).
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