Seiyun Sultan Al Kathiri and Seiyun palace are synonymous for a giant mud-built mansion located at the heart of mud architecture hub in Yemen’s southern province of Hadramout.
Along with Shibam mud-skyscraper, the palace has served as a living quintessence of mud architecture that have flourished in Hadramout for centuries and a unique destination for many tourists who visit Yemen. Due to a decade of no renovation, the palace is now in terrible condition. Architects and local people have urged the Yemeni government to rescue the palace as rifts began to appear in many walls.
Sitting in a cracked room with supported roofs, a group of the palace’s employees have complained that despite the increasing cracks in the palace’s walls which show that the structure is on the brink of collapse , they were neither evacuated nor the rifts repaired.
Adnan Bawazer, who introduced himself as the director of antiquities department in the palace, told Gulf News that he is so concerned about his life and that of his colleagues as the palace may collapse on their heads at any time.”When the palace crumbles and we die, the cultural bodies will scurry and repair it. Our people usually arrive late.”
Adnan claimed that the palace is the most ancient and biggest existing mud-built building in the world and the country will lose a prominent landmark if it falls down.
“We can’t imagine our city without the palace. We have sent many appeals to all government and non-government culture-oriented organisations to safe the palace from collapse.”
Adnan said that in 2005 a small earthquake hit the city and left slight damage. But the most damage was recorded when flash floods and heavy rains struck the area in 2008. Subsequently,rifts appeared and some walls started bending. Now the palace is suffering from growing and noticeable cracks that forced the palace administration to close some suites in the palace.
“We have closed the western part as we recently saw cracks. We don’t want to put visitors in danger. Thirty per cent of the palace is out of service.” said Abdul Rahman Hassan Al Saqqaf, the director of the provincial office of the General Organisation of Antiquities, Museums and Manuscripts, a government body thatmanages the palace.
Recently, the Reconstruction Fund, established by the government to handle the effects of the flash floods in 2008,has earmarked YR6m(Dh104,000)as cost for remedial renovation.
Abdul Rahman thinks that withthis amount they will only be able to scratch the surface. “We have prepared a study on the needs of the palace. We think that the palace needs YR30m(Dh 517.000)for interior renovation and the same amount of money for renovating the palace from the outside.”
“The mud buildings always need regular renovation since they don’t stand on a skeleton, rather the mud bricks attach to each other which keeps the building stand.”
Abdul Rahman outlined many reasons for the palace’s bad condition.
“The age of the building, lack of regular renovation, rains and the building’s heavy weight are the reasons behind the emergence of rifts. Also the palace is based on partly weak mound which is made of rock and mud.”
In spite of the rifts, Abdul Rahman assured his employees that the ramshackle palace is not collapsing in the foreseeable future .”I can’t say that the palace is collapsing , but if it was left to go tod ruin, I can assuredly say that it will collapse in the short term.”
The palace is empty of tourists who used to visit the palace in huge numbers. Even before the political standoff early 2011, Hadramout province was classified as a dangerous area which made a major dent on the number of foreign tourists.