Kaplan RPI Program Supports Restoration of Yemen’s Islamic Heritage


The restored entrance to the guest house of the Ahmed bin Saleh shrine. Image courtesy Daw’an Mud Brick Architecture Foundation.

Built in the late 18th century, the Sufi Islamic shrine of Ahmed bin Saleh, located in the coastal town of Ash-Shihr in Yemen’s Hadhramaut region, commemorates the life and burial place of a revered local spiritual leader renowned for his religious teachings and ability to mediate tribal disputes. The shrine, which remains until today a site of Sufi religious festivals, pilgrimages, and community events, includes the small domed mausoleum of the saint, another mausoleum (built a century later) for his descendants, a simple mosque, and a nearby guest house, which has given shelter and comfort to the shrine’s visitors and pilgrims for more than two centuries.

Unfortunately, the shrine was one of the early casualties of Yemen’s ongoing civil war, its two domed mausoleums intentionally destroyed by Al Qaeda-linked groups in June 2015 as part of a concerted effort to desecrate the religious and cultural heritage of the region’s Sufi Muslim population. While not destroyed, the shrine’s mosque and guest house, already suffering from years of inadequate upkeep and maintenance, were also damaged during the bombing, with ceilings and walls cracked, windows broken, fixtures smashed, and critical water and drainage systems left in need of urgent repair.

Restoration work on the interior of the guest house. Image courtesy Daw’an Mud Brick Architecture Foundation.

Now, the Daw’an Mud Brick Architecture Foundation—a local non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding Yemen’s traditional architecture—is partnering with CAORC and other international organizations to salvage, rebuild, and restore the various elements of the shrine complex. Through CAORC’s Kaplan Responsive Preservation Initiative, the Daw’an Foundation’s team of specialists and technicians, trained in working with traditional building materials and methods, has worked to restore the facade and front quarters of the shrine’s guest house, making the site again safe and accessible for pilgrims and visitors. Earlier in 2019, the Daw’an Foundation, in partnership with the Prince Clause Fund, also received funding through the British Council's Cultural Protection Fund to restore and preserve the shrine’s two domed mausoleums.

Watch this short video to learn more about the restoration of the shrine’s guest house and how traditional Yemeni building methods were used to repair and transform the damaged building.

The J.M. Kaplan-funded Responsive Preservation Initiative (RPI), administered by CAORC, provides critical funding to support urgent preservation, documentation, and site management efforts at cultural heritage sites around the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean.

Learn more about RPI-funded projects at www.caorc.org/rpi-grantees.



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