Tarim is one of the renowned cities of Hadhramaut Valley (Shabwa and Sayun); it is situated to the north-east of Shabwa. Being at 2070 feet above sea level, Tarim is located at a latitude of 16 degrees north of the equator and a longitude of 48 degrees east of Greenwich; it spans over approximately 3500 km².
Located on the west side of the main channel of Hadhramaut Valley, Tarim is considered as the second largest city of the Valley. It is about 24 km to Sayun and 356 km to Al Mukalla, the capital of Hadhramaut Governorate. Tarim has been the religious capital of Hadhramaut since the 4th century of the hegira and has seen the flourishing of religious schools and centers of learning specialized in the memorization of the Holy Quran for more than 600 years.
Historical references state that Tarim was named after one of its kings, Tarim bin Hadhramout bin Saba’, junior. The city is mentioned in ancient Yemeni inscriptions as Taram and as Tarim. Tarim was, in ancient times, both a capital and seat for Kindah Kings.
Tarim over the ages
The inhabitants of Tarim embraced Islam when the delegation of Hadhramaut met Prophet Muhammad, peace and prayers be upon him, in Medina in the tenth year of the hegira. The Prophet appointed the first governor over Hadhramaut, Ziyad ibn Labid al-Bayadi al-Ansari, who took Tarim as a residence. Shortly afterwards, Ziyad received a letter from the first caliph, Abu Bakr, requesting the oath of allegiance of the people of Hadhramaut. It was gladly given by the people of Tarim. However, many of the Kindah tribes were not so keen to pledge their allegiance to the new leader. The people of Tarim who stuck to their Islamic faith played a major role in fighting against these apostates during a decisive battle in Al-Nujir fortress, about 30 km to the east of Tarim, in which many of the Prophet’s companions were injured and taken to Tarim for treatment. Other companions of the Prophet were martyred and buried in Zambal Cemetery in Tarim.
During the Islamic era, Tarim has become a center for learning and knowledge in Yemen. A number of historians and travelers such as Al-Hamadani who described it as a “great city”, gave detailed accounts about this historic city. Tarim has also been a brilliant Islamic intellectual center for religious enlightenment and knowledge acquisition. Journeys to spread the Islamic faith from these lands started in the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th century of the hegira. To this end, a large number of people migrated to India, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.
Urban development in Tarim
Tarim is one of the most beautiful cities in Yemen. It is renowned for its magnificent clay-built palaces which were constructed by its skillful workers who, using local building materials, managed to adapt the traditional local styles of building to accommodate Islamic architecture arts. Indeed, this has brought the city to great prominence.
Tarim has witnessed a steady urban development since the 12th century of the hegira. Urban development reached its peak in the beginning of the 14th century of the hegira. Migration to Singapore, Indonesia and India has greatly contributed to the flourishing of this development in Tarim. Since the 12th century, wealthy families such as the Al-Aidarous family, the Ibn Sahl family, the al-Kaf family and the Ibn-Yahya family have erected lofty dwellings and introduced an elaborate architectural style. Indian names such as “bungalow” have survived to refer to a specific kind of building.
Tarim’s houses are composed of three of four floors of about 10 cubits high. They are characterized by their spaciousness, regular and steady construction as well as their colourful inscriptions in the form of well-arranged circles and lines. The inhabitants of Tarim usually use bright colours in inscribing some verses of the Holy Quran or poetry on walls. Some old houses have large louvered vents from inside. Tarim’s gorgeous houses constitute a good reference for the architectural art predominating in the Valley. The doors and windows are made of refined redwood; the doors are ornamented with verses of the Quran and engravings; ceilings are painted in bright colours. A mixture of clay and straw, known as cob, is used as a building material of the houses which are then painted with lime.
Tarim’s skilled workers have established a well-earned reputation for Yemeni architecture. Indeed, all Tarim’s houses have been built by local workers and all decoration and ornament material are made in Hadhramaut. One of the specific instances of Hadhramaut architecture is the portal of Dar Abdullah bin Abi Bakr Al-Aidarous which was built in the 9th century of the hegira; the full surah of “Yassin” is engraved on this portal.
Among the most famous architects in the 14th century of the hegira are Abu Bakr Alawi Al-Kaf (Al-Khadeeb); Awwad Suleyman Afif and his brothers who erected a large number of buildings, minarets and domes; the Al-Bunah family; and Omar Yaamar (died in 1975) who built the majority of the houses of the rich in Tarim such as the Qubbah Palace and the Ish-Shah Palace.
Tarim has always been a center for scholarship and knowledge. Seekers of knowledge were heading to Tarim from Yemeni areas as well as from neighboring countries, the Far East and East Africa to study in its zawayyas. Some of its ancient knowledge centers which are still operating include the “Me’lama (school) of Abu Murayyim for the memorization of the Holy Quran” which was established in the 6th century of the hegira and the “Tarim Ribat” which was inaugurated on 14 Muharram 1305. Various outstanding scholarly institutions were built in Tarim which feature the Faculty of Sharia of the al-Ahqaf University, and the Dar al-Mustapha campus.
Major civilizational landmarks
There are many historical sites and archaeological monuments in Tarim. Irrigation canals, water wheels, bastions and fortresses, walls, towers, etc. More particularly, mosques stand out as a historic evidence of human achievement in Tarim.
Tarim boasts a large number of mosques. The most famous of these is the Al-Muhdhar Mosque, with its 40-meter-high adobe minaret (150 ft). The minaret was designed by the local poet Abu Bakr bin Abdul Rahman Shihab, and built by famous Master Awadh Sulaiman Afif and his brothers. Finished with lime wash paint, the minaret stands out as one of the architectural marvels of the Hadhramaut valley.
Al-Wa’l Mosque is said to be one of the oldest in Tarim. It was built in 49 AH by Sheikh Ahmed bin Abbad bin Bishr al-Ansari, forefather of the Al-Khatibs of Tarim.
Al-Jami’ (Grand) Mosque:
he Al-Jami’ Mosque, situated in the heart of Tarim on its southern edge, was built in the period from 375 to 402 AH / 985 to 1011 AD.
Attached to the mosque is the Al-Ahqaf manuscript library. This massive library, which reports to the Ministry of Culture, and comes second to the Sanaa-based House of Manuscripts in importance, houses more than 5,000 invaluable handwritten manuscripts, some of which date back to the Hadhramaut era. The library is accessible to learners from all ages.
Second: Zawaya, teaching centres and mausoleums
Tarim boasts a large number of ancient zaways (Islamic religious compounds) and qubbets (domes), all named after renowned prominent scholars and religious figures. These include the zawiya of Sheikh Hussein bin Abdullah Al-Aidarous (in Ba-Shaâban Mosque), the Ali bin Abu Bakr Al-Sakran zawiya, the Abdullah bin Sheikhs zawiya, the Dar al-Qira’a zawiya (in Es-Saheel), the Awwabin Mosque’s zawiya, the Nufei Mosque’s zawiya, the Abu Murayyim school for Quran memorization, the Saqqaf Mosque’s zawiya, and the zawiya of Imam Abdullah bin Abu Bakr Al-Aidarous. There is also the Ribat of Tarim, a prestigious original education school, which is identified in historical narratives as the counterpart of Al-Azhar. Most ancient of all Tarim’s zawayas is the zawiya of Sheikh Salem Ba-Fadl, near the mosque bearing his name. The is also the zawiya of Sheikh Hussein bin Abdullah Belhaj, situated west of Tarim mosque, called today the Shukrah Mosque. These and various other zawayas like the zawiya of Ba-Gharib and the zawiya of Ba-Harami have produced many a jurisprudent (clerics), sheikhs and other scholarly figures of world renown.
There are plenty of religious landmarks and Mazārs (tombs/mausoleums) in Tarim and thereabouts which have huge cultural significance. These include the Al-Muhdhar Mosque with its towering minaret, the Tarim Mosque, and the mausoleum of Ahmed bin Abbaad bin Bichr (situated in the village of al-Lisk). No less important are the domes of: Aal-Sheikh (Abu Bakr bin Salem); Bajilhaban; Sheikh Abdullah Ba-Qashir, famous for his book “Qalaeid ul-Kharaid” (Necklaces of unbored pearls), in the village of Qasam; and Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed (Chief of Al-Quwaira tribe), in the Mashta village.
The Domes of Bajilhaban
Third: Historical palaces
Tarim fascinates its visitors with its countless remarkable tourist spots and prestigious mud-brick mansions that recall the impressive architectural design of the Hadhramaut valley, with the influence of Asian, African (Malawi) and Greek design. The most commonly known of these are the Ish-Shah palace, the Tawahi palace, the Dar-es-Salam palace, the Hamtut palace, the Abdur-Rahman bin Sheikh al-Kaf palace, the Manisourah palace (owned by the bin Yahyas), the Qubbah palace, the Salmanah palace, etc.
Fourth: Walls, strongholds and citadels
Tarim is most famously renowned for its wall, built by Sultan Abdullah bin Rached in 601 AH, and demolished by Abdullah bin Rassei in 895 AH. The repair of the wall was taken by Ahmed bin Mohamed Rassei in 913 AH, who finished it off with three gates (the first, on the southern side to the Assil well; the second, on the eastern side to the Al-Sharif family district; and the third, on the northern side to Al-Qaris district). Tarim is also known for its great many dams and reservoirs, built in the city and its margin areas. There are also various citadels erected at the base of mountains as defensive structures for the city. Standing out above all these are:
The Al-Rannad stronghold:
Located in the centre of the city, the Al-Rannad bastion has served for centuries as Yemen’s fortified centre of power. It has been renamed ‘People’s Palace’. It is a cocktail of Hadhrami, Greek and Asian architecture.
Other famous citadels and strongholds include: the Mutahhar stronghold, the Falluqah stronghold, the Irr stronghold, the Ghramah stronghold, the Nafi stronghold, the bin Dhuban stronghold, and the Al-Muqaddim bin Yamani stronghold (in the Qasam village). The city is also known for its numerous kouts (small castles): the Aden kout, the Abd Ed-Daim kout, the Awadh kout, and similar other ancient structures.
Tarim also has many siqãyats (water wheels), such as the Mushayyakh siqãyat at Kahlan Mountain near the Mutahhar stronghold, the al-Aridh siqãyat in the al-Nuaydra region, the Hunainah siqãyat (adjacent to Damun region), and the Belhaj siqãyat (adjacent to the Thabi village).