Use of historic castle in Hodeida in question

Published on 9 January 2014 in Report
Samar Qaed (author), Samar Qaed (photographer)

Samar Qaed


Samar Qaed

Locals say no one has bothered to remove the Tehama Movement’s flag since it was erected in March 2012.

Locals say no one has bothered to remove the Tehama Movement’s flag since it was erected in March 2012.

Corniche Al-Hodeida Castle sits on the coast of the Red Sea in Hodeida’s Al-Hawak district. The castle was constructed as a military fortress in 1538 during the Ottoman occupation of Yemen. It is considered one of the most important historic landmarks in Hodeida governorate, although its current use is leading many to wonder how dedicated the state is to preserving its history.   

Following the 1962 revolution—when the imam’s rule came to an end—antiquities, including manuscripts, were collected and stored in the castle, and eventually these treasures were made public.

However, the ancient building was closed in March 2012 following an attack and subsequent looting that took place during local, political demonstrations.

Now the castle is used as the headquarters for Hodeida governorate’s antiquities office and other local administrative offices inclduing the land authority, sanitation and tourism.

What was once a small tourist destination is now a place of business, with government employees coming and going.  

There are no more students or researchers, says Enas Mohammed, who had worked as the museum’s secretary and is currently a secretary for the district director’s office.

Around eight years ago, the Al-Hawak district’s local council repaired the castle at a cost of YR250 million (nearly $1.2 million). The castle was then handed over to the antiquities office of Hodeida governorate. But in 2012, clashes erupted in nearby Hirak Square, between members of the Tehama Movement, local authorities and the Central Security Forces.

The Tehama Movement, a popular group that formed in 2012 to organize against what they call the marginalization of Tehama locals by the central government, took refuge in the castle in March 2012 after fighting erupted.  As a result, security forces stormed the fortress, damaging the castle’s antique, wooden doors.  An undocumented number of historic items were looted from the castle during the fighting.

“We had asked the police and movement members to stay away from the castle,” said Ahmed Al-Deek, the director of Hodeida’s antiquities office. “Some historic manuscripts and weapons were stolen. We don’t know what happened to them.”

Following the clashes, the local district authority moved out, leaving the remaining relics at the castle to sit collecting dust.  Although the antiquities office still operates within the castle, the local authority is pushing for them to move.  

Ali Al-Hindi, the manager of the Al-Hawak district, explained that the local district moved its offices into the castle because they believe the antiquities office was not properly protecting it. The local district blames the office for the loss of the historical treasures.

“The current administration neglected the castle. We do not object to the evacuation of [all of the offices, both the local ones and the antiquities authority] from the castle provided that it is handed over to an authority capable of protecting and securing the building. But it is impossible to leave it now because we are [the ones keeping it safe],” Al-Hindi said.

It doesn’t seem anyone will be moving anytime soon or that the castle will be restored as a historic site.  

In the meantime, the Tehama Movement’s blue, white and green flag still flies above the castle’s façade as a reminder of the change in guard.